Monday, 19 October 2015

KINDRED SPIRITS, TOWER OF LONDON - an interview with Jennifer C Wilson

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming fellow Crooked Cat author Jennifer C Wilson.  I had the great pleasure of editing Jen's new novel, Kindred Spirits, Tower of London.  The book is officially released later this month, but you can pre-order it now by clicking here

Welcome, Jen!  

Please tell us a little about your new novel, Kindred Spirits, Tower of London. What inspired you to write this particular story?

Writing Magazine ran a competition to write a poem featuring ghosts, and I wrote a truly abysmal sonnet, about how King Richard III and Queen Anne Boleyn should be friends, given that they were both destroyed by a Henry Tudor. I never submitted the poem, but it got me thinking about how that relationship could come about, where they would meet, and who else would be in their inner circle. Then I got stuck on a train to London the long way round, and decided to start building it into a story.

Here is Jen in Leicester Cathedral, after the service of Compline for King Richard III.  His coffin, covered with black velvet, is visible behind her.

There are a lot of ghosts in the book.  Have you ever seen a real ghost?

I think I have, when I was a child. I walked into the back garden, and saw Dad weeding the border, but when I called to him, he completely ignored me. When I called again, he answered from behind me, having walked around from the front of the house, followed by Mum. When I looked back to the border, there was nobody there. Very eerie, but apparently the housing estate is built on land which used to have market gardens on it, so it makes some sense at least. Happily, nothing scarier than a gardener.

How did you first hear about Crooked Cat Publishing, and what made you decide to submit your book to them? 

I saw the announcement of an open submission window on Twitter, and decided to investigate. The books on their website looked an interesting mix, and lots that I would enjoy writing, and I was attracted by the notion of a dedicated editor to work with. I knew the novel needed some care and attention, and liked the idea of a working relationship to get it into the best shape it could be, if accepted.

What’s next for you, writing-wise?

I've started working on another Kindred Spirits tale, heading north to Scotland, and I'm really enjoying the initial research phase, finding my new cast of characters and working out how their 'lives' intertwine. What will happen to it, who knows, but it's fun going at the moment!

Now, please tell us a little about the real Jennifer C Wilson:
What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

It's a clich̩ I suppose, but I love reading РI have plenty of history and historical fiction waiting for me on my Kindle. I also really enjoy making jewellery, keeping my stash of gems and findings topped up, and making pieces to go to specific events, with particular outfits etc.

What is your favourite tipple?

I'm a bit partial to a glass of Merlot.

Is there somewhere you’d love to go but haven’t so far visited?

Monterey Bay, California. As a marine biologist, the place is unbelievable, so to visit during the famous migration period, with so many species of marine mammal visiting the area, would be incredible. Research is happening, but no idea when the real thing will!

Is there anything which, with hindsight, you would have done differently?

That's difficult... I'm a worrier, and an over-thinker, and I tend to um-and-ah about things for a long time, before usually doing what first came to me! So, no specific examples really, but I wish from an early age I'd noticed this, so I could have made some of my decisions more quickly, and have saved myself an awful lot of time which could have been used for something more productive.

On a lighter note, I wish my friend Karen and I had been brave enough to say 'hello' to Ronan Keating when he walked past us after the Boyzone concert in Edinburgh. Having been fans for over twenty years, it would have been amazing, but we just let him walk on by. Still, we did meet Shane, so it wasn't an entirely wasted evening...

Thank you for being such an entertaining guest, Jen.  Please visit me again soon!

Monday, 14 September 2015

FIVE GUNS BLAZING - an interview with Emma Rose Millar

Today I'm thrilled to welcome to my blog the lovely Emma Rose Millar.  Emma's new novel, Five Guns Blazing, is released tomorrow by Crooked Cat Publishing, but has already reached bestseller status on pre-orders alone.

Welcome, Emma!  Please tell us a little about your new novel, Five Guns Blazing. (I’m particularly intrigued by the title!)

Five Guns Blazing tells the story of Laetitia Beedham, a pauper from the backstreets of London, who in 1710 is transported to Barbados along with her conniving mother, Molly. Laetitia is a vulnerable but surprisingly resilient character who survives two years in the workhouse, seventy gruelling days on the open sea and a punishing regime on a Caribbean sugar plantation. On her eighteenth birthday, Laetitia is sold to pirate captain John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham but soon finds herself torn between her admiration for the captain and her feelings for his beautiful but double-crossing wife, Anne Bonny. As the King’s men close in on the pirates, Anne hatches a devious plan, set to speed Laetitia straight to the noose.

The title comes from Anne Bonny’s final piratical escapade, when the ship was stormed by Governor Lawes’ men whilst most of the men were drunk below deck. She fought valiantly, with a pistol in each hand, along with Mary Read and another unknown pirate, their five guns blazing. As the pirate hunters threw boarding hooks onto the deck of Anne’s sloop, she swore and cursed at the cowardice of her male shipmates, shouting, “Dogs, all of them! If only we’d had some more women with us instead of these damned weaklings!”

What inspired you to write this particular story?

I was at a barbeque and someone was playing an old Adam and the Ants song called Five Guns West, which contained the lyrics, Ladies can be captains and ladies can be chiefs, just like glorious Amazons, Anne Bonny, Mary Read. Up until then, I’d never heard of any female pirates; women supposedly weren’t allowed on pirate ships because they brought bad luck! How did an ordinary girl from London and an attorney’s daughter from County Cork come to be the most villainous women ever to take to the seas? The more I read about the pair, the more fascinated I became. Their sloop, Revenge was captained by the handsome, charismatic pirate, John Rackham, known more for his gentlemanly conduct and outlandish fashion sense than his treacherous exploits. He was a Romeo, the Lothario of the high seas.  It was the women who were the most vicious members of the crew, wielding pistols and machetes, lighting fuses, and ordering the men to kill their captives. Anne in particular was slippery as an eel and managed to escape execution on numerous occasions. It seemed there was a novel just begging to be written.

How did you first hear about Crooked Cat Publishing, and what made you decide to submit to them?

I discovered Crooked Cat just by doing a google search for independent publishers. They were closed for submissions at the time but I loved the idea of being a part of a supportive community of authors, and their eclectic mix of books, many of which seemed to fit into more than one genre, as does mine. I kept checking back on their website and as soon as they were open for submissions I sent my manuscript straight away. I was so happy when they accepted Five Guns Blazing. Everyone has been so welcoming; it feels like it was meant to be.

What can we expect from you next, writing-wise?

My first novel, Strains from an Aeolian Harp, is a dark tale of obsession and opium addiction set in 1920s Britain. I’m re-editing it at the moment and am hoping to find it a new home. I’m also working on a novel called The Women Friends, based on the painting of the same name by Gustav Klimt, which was burnt on the last day of World War II. I have also written a children’s picture book series called The Amazing Adventures of Nathan Molloy, which I have had a lot of interest in.

Please tell us a little about the real Emma Rose Millar:

What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

I’m very busy, Sue. I’m a single mum with a five year old son, so I mostly do kids’ stuff when I’m not working, like swimming and fruit picking, and I’ve resurrected my old hobby from the 1970’s – roller skating! But if I do get time to myself then I love live comedy and live music, especially blues, reggae and ska.

What is your favourite food?

I’m really greedy and there’s nothing much I won’t eat, but I’d say my favourite food is Italian. I love the country, the language, the culture over there… and of course the wine!

Is there somewhere you’d love to go but haven’t so far visited?

Definitely Jamaica – well all of the Caribbean actually. It hasn’t always been a place I longed to visit, but once I started researching Five Guns Blazing, I became spellbound with all things piratical.  I’d love to go on a Caribbean cruise; it’s one of the many things I’ve got planned for my retirement.  I’d also like to go on a spa break in Iceland and visit the cities of Barcelona and Vienna. My latest novel’s set in Vienna and the Austrian countryside – I really should go there!

Is there anything which, with hindsight, you would have done differently?

Just about everything! I’ve made so many mistakes over the years and no doubt I’ll keep making them! I suppose that what makes life so colourful and gives us authors plenty to write about. I wish I’d spent more time with my grandma - she died last year aged ninety after a short illness. In general I always wish I could be a nicer person. Having my son is the one thing I wouldn’t change though; becoming a mum is the best thing I ever did.

Thank you, Emma - it's been lovely talking to you.  Please come again!

Five Guns Blazing is available now on Amazon.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

PRIDE & REGICIDE - an interview with Cathy Bryant

Today I have the great pleasure of welcoming as my guest the amazing Cathy Bryant.  For some years Cathy has been a prolific and prize-winning poet and short-story writer, but 2015 marks the beginning of her career as a novelist.  Cathy's debut novel, Pride & Regicide, will be published by Crooked Cat Publishing on 29th September, and is now available for pre-order by following this link.

Welcome, Cathy!  

Please tell us a little about your new novel, Pride & Regicide.

It's a light-hearted crime thriller set in the world of Pride & Prejudice, three years after the events of Jane Austen's novel. Mary Bennet, together with her best friend Cassandra Lucas, finds herself in the middle of a murder mystery.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

I was looking for my copy of P+P one day and said to myself, "That's funny, I can't find Pride and Regicide. Wait, what?!" It was a simple slip of the tongue and it might have stopped there, except that I remembered one of the minor characters from P+P: Miss King. She was engaged to Mr Wickham and we never did find out why the match was broken off...

This is your first novel, but I know that you’re no stranger to writing.  Can you tell us a bit more about your other work?

I've been lucky enough to have about 200 poems and short stories printed in various magazines and anthologies, and three books published. Two have been published by Puppywolf: Contains Strong Language and Scenes of a Sexual Nature (my first poetry collection), and How to Win Writing Competitions (and make money), where I explain what I did to win 19 writing competitions and literary awards, and how the reader can do it too. My second poetry collection was Look at All the Women, published by Mother's Milk Books, which got some lovely reviews. I write everything, from horror to nonfiction articles.

Wow - that sounds pretty impressive.  Where can readers by these books?

Click here!

As a fellow Crooked Cat author, I’m sure you will agree that Crooked Cat is a wonderful publisher.  How did you first hear about them, and what made you decide to submit to them?

It was by an odd circle of events, really. I have a website designed to help other writers: Cathy's Comps and Calls, in which I list calls for submission and writing competitions that don't require any fees and can be entered, or submitted to, electronically. I listed Crooked Cat on there when they had an open submission window. It so happened that two of my favourite writers (including one Sue Barnard, who wrote a terrific book called The Ghostly Father, you really should read it) had novels published by them, and I was very impressed by the quality of both books and publisher. So when the next submission window came around, I made sure to submit! I am so thrilled that such a prestigious publisher has accepted my novel and they've been a delight to work with.

Please tell us a little about the real Cathy Bryant:

What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

When not writing I'm generally reading, sleeping, eating, cuddling cats or my other half, or chatting to friends in person and online. I'm not the physically adventurous sort - if I want to travel somewhere exciting, I open a book. I do love to perform, though, and there's little I enjoy more than making a roomful of people howl with laughter.

What is your favourite tipple?

I rarely drink alcohol - probably about four units a year - as with all my painkillers (I have arthritis and a number of other conditions) booze tends to send me to sleep. I like the occasional Amaretto or a good brandy or port. The best wine I ever had was a Beerenauslese 1976, but that was a long time ago. It tasted like liquid sunshine.

So I down a lot of decaf coffee and tea, and a hot chocolate/cocoa hybrid of my own devising. I drink various types of water, too (gosh, Im thrilling, aren't I?!) and I suppose the most exotic thing I sometimes drink is a really good tea - a single estate Darjeeling or a Russian Caravan or Assam. At our Occasional Austen meetings (I am a member of a Janeite group who meet up in Regency dress and talk about Austen-related things (and anything else we like)) I get to sit in my gown and drink good tea while fanning myself. It's rather blissful.

Is there anything which, with hindsight, you would have done differently?

In life, or the novel?! 


In life - gosh yes! I'd have stopped trying to be sensible about either a career or marriage, and let myself be a writer twenty years earlier; and I'd have spent less time listening to bad 1980s music, I should think.

In the novel - hmmm....I probably should have killed another person, and also involved the servants more - I read Longbourn by Jo Baker and it demonstrated how invisible the servant class was in the novels and society of the time. I have a plan to involve a servant in Northanger Alibi, the sequel to Pride and Regicide. He or she will play a vital part in the uncovering of information.

Tell us three things about you which you think will surprise us!

1. I was struck by lightning and bitten by a poisonous spider on the same day, at a wedding in Tennessee. The bride and groom are still together, fourteen years later, so it wasn't an omen.

2. I was born on Friday 13th, which means that all superstitions are reversed for me. Apparently I'd also make a good witch.

3. My first names are Catherine, Jane and Elizabeth, which have all been used as the names of characters in works by Jane Austen and those of the Brontës (Catherine Morland, Jane Fairfax/Bennet, Elizabeth Bennet; Catherine Earnshaw, Jane Eyre, Elizabeth Hastings).

4. (I am a rebel...)  Although I love to perform and I appear quite extroverted, it's an uncharacteristic aspect of me - I'm really terribly shy, and I've only been able to come out of my shell because people have been so encouraging and kind to me. I get very nervous in company, even (or especially) when I really like the people. Many thanks to all those reading this who are among those who have helped me and supported me. I'd still be quivering unhappily and not daring to try anything without you.

Thank you for being my guest today, Cathy!  Please come again!

Sunday, 6 September 2015


Today I'm over on Cathie Dunn's blog, talking about the city of Romeo & Juliet, and also on Jennifer C Wilson's blog, talking about historical fiction in general.

Hop over and take a look!

Sunday, 16 August 2015

FILLED WITH GHOSTS - an interview with Karen Little

Today I have an extra-special guest on my blog - the fabulously talented artist and writer Karen Little.  Karen and I first met on Facebook last year, and since then we have met several times in real life.  During those meetings she achieved what I'd thought was impossible - she taught me how to produce passable pieces of artwork.  That was something which I'd long since written off as a lost cause!  But I will never be as good as she is...

Welcome, Karen!

You’re a lady of many talents – artist, dancer, poet…  Please tell me a little about your work in those fields. 

I was quite the problem child at my secondary school, but obsessed with painting. At age eleven I had a strange ‘visionary’ way of painting; there would be a pleasant still life of fruit set up and I would be painting abstracts based around bones.     

I ran away from home to London while still a teenager, and didn’t go to Art college at that point. I was in love with Kate Bush, and started doing dance classes at The Place, home of London Contemporary Dance Company, because it was where Kate rehearsed. I auditioned and got into the full time school a year later, and then joined a dance theatre company.  A few years later I did a sculpture degree at Camberwell School of Art.  I was mixing it up, dancing, painting, exhibiting and performing. Oh and I had a son along the way. I have exhibited art and performed as a dancer in London, Germany, and Spain.

I didn’t start writing as my main expression until I came to Manchester five years ago, after living in Spain for six years. I say "came to Manchester," but really I was dragged back by family after a psychotic episode that spanned several months. I painted throughout, and I suppose the ‘visionary’ is apparent in them!      

In Manchester I started doing various poetry workshops, and reading poems at events. In the last year or so I've started submitting them to magazines, anthologies, competitions, and have been surprisingly successful at getting published.

Having read some of your poetry, I have to say I don't find that at all surprising!  And I believe you’re currently working on a novella.  Please can you tell me a little about it? What inspired you to write this particular story?

The novella, Filled with Ghosts, is very recently ‘finished’, and I am starting to hunt out potential homes for it. More than one person has mentioned an element of poetic stream of consciousness in its make-up, and I cannot deny that the initial 40,000 words were written rapidly, through that method. At that point the work began for me, as I structured it, and decided which characters had the POV for a chapter; the story unfolds through several characters’ first person narrations. It is set in Southern Spain, and the story originated as a ten-minute play, which was a fictionalised account of my psychotic episodes in Spain.  Three of the characters in the play appear in the novella, and a narrative version of the play is seeded in there. I am not sure if my writing methods are bizarre, but there is an overlap and crossover between novella, short stories, poems, such that often when I am writing I don’t know in which direction the piece will develop.

What’s next on the creative agenda for you?

The writing of novella two is in progress. I say novella, because I have a tendency to pare things down. Filled with Ghosts was 65,000 words at one point, but the sculptor in me took over.
I am writing poems and reading them at events. Still mixing it up!  Writing short stories too, and if you are interested you can find my most recently published one in this fab anthology. I went to the launch in Wales on 15th August, and five of us read our stories. The proceeds are going to the mental health organisation SANE.

Please tell me a little about the real Karen Little. Is there anything which, with hindsight, you would have done differently?

I think I am quite hard work. Like most people with mental health issues I take enormous advantage of the times when I am able to be sociable and active, because the other side of the coin is complete withdrawal. This doesn’t stop me creating, and much of my painting and writing has been done when for long periods I cannot face a soul. It does feel very precarious, but it is a life-long condition, and I now understand myself more, and am gentler with myself. It was harder when I was young and I would be as confused as everyone else when I suddenly had to walk out on people, things, life, and disappear.

I think I would find it difficult to say "would have done differently." I feel very driven, I feel very fortunate.

What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

My two young dogs are very demanding at eight and eighteen months old, and need a lot of walking. Animals are my total soft spot. I would love to be somewhere the dogs could just run free. I also have a gecko and fish.       

I paint sometimes, and I read when my concentration lets me. My concentration varies, and some days I can easily write pages of stream of conscious, and many days  go by without my being able to read it back, let alone edit it.

What is your favourite tipple?

Wine. Mmm…If only wine was good for me in large quantities….

Find out more about Karen on her blog and her Facebook page.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

BARGAIN BOOKS - for this week only!

Just to let you know that all three of my novels are available on Amazon Kindle for just 99p each (or the equivalent in your local currency) for this week only, in the amazing Crooked Cat summer sale.  Click on the book covers on the right to find out more!

Saturday, 8 August 2015

REVOLUTION DAY - a guest post by Tim Taylor

Today I have another extra-special guest on my blog - my friend and fellow-Crooked Cat author Tim Taylor, who is here to talk about Life, The Universe, Revolution, and the Crooked Cat summer sale.

Welcome, Tim!

Hello, Sue, and thank you very much for inviting me to visit your blog.

My pleasure, Tim.  Please tell us a little about your new novel, Revolution Day.

It follows a turbulent year in the life of a fictional dictator, Carlos Almanzor. 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. 
                Meanwhile, Carlos’ estranged and imprisoned wife Juanita is writing a memoir in which she recalls the revolution that brought him to power and how his regime descended into repression.
                When Manuel’s attempts to increase his profile are met with humiliating rejection, he resolves to take action, using the resources at his disposal as Minister of Information to manipulate Carlos and drive a wedge between him and Angel, the commander of the army. As Manuel begins to pull the strings, Juanita will become an unwitting participant in his plans.
            There is more information about the novel, plus some tasters, on my website.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

For a while I had been toying with the idea of a novel about someone who has been very powerful but is starting to lose his grip as he becomes an old man. Initially I envisaged him as a king, but when a string of dictators (Hussein, Mubarak, Gaddafi) fell in quick succession I thought ‘why not a dictator?’. Then, as the ideas started to come together, I settled on Latin America because I wanted a strong, politically active female character, which would have been more difficult in a middle-eastern context. 

How does it relate to your previous novel, Zeus of Ithome?

There is one point of similarity in that both novels describe a revolution – and because of that, there is a kinship between the aspirations of certain characters in both novels. But that is more coincidence than anything else; in other respects, they are very different. Revolution Day is set in the present, in a fictional country, whereas Zeus is set in the 4th century BC and chronicles real events – the struggle of the ancient Messenians to free themselves from three centuries of slavery under the Spartans – albeit through the personal stories of fictional (as well as some historical) characters.

As a fellow Crooked Cat author, I’m sure you will agree that Crooked Cat is a wonderful publisher.  How did you first hear about them, and what made you decide to submit to them?

A friend of mine in Holmfirth Writers Group, Kimm Brook (a. k. a. K B Walker) had published a novel (Once Removed) with Crooked Cat, and spoke highly of them. So I submitted the first three chapters of Zeus of Ithome and the rest, as they say, is history! They are indeed very nice people to work with.

Now please tell us a little about the real Tim Taylor!

What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

Well, I like to play my guitars (I have fourteen!), and a bit of piano. I like walking up (or just being among) hills and mountains, especially on a clear day. I like to visit museums and watch plays. And I must admit that on occasion I succumb to the charms of general slobbing about. 

What is your favourite tipple?

Either Newcastle Brown Ale or a nice red wine, depending on my mood and circumstances.

Is there somewhere you’d love to go but haven’t so far visited?

Oh, so many places!  South America, the Himalayas, China, India. If I won the lottery (or had a huge bestseller) I’d buy a big boat and spend a lot of my time travelling the world. 

Is there anything which, with hindsight, you would have done differently?

If I could have back the few months I wasted getting bored at home before I went to university, I would do a lot of the travelling I have never had time to get around to since then, and go to some of the places I have just mentioned!  At the time, I didn’t realise how rare and precious it is to be free of commitments and responsibilities. 

Thanks again for hosting me, Sue, and for those thought-provoking questions. 

Thanks for coming, Tim; it's been a pleasure.  

BREAKING NEWS: Both of Tim's novels, together with lots of other great holiday reads, are currently just 99p each for a few days only, in the great Crooked Cat Publishing summer sale. Snap them up now, before the price goes back up!

More about Tim:

Tim was born in 1960 in Stoke-on-Trent. He studied Classics at Pembroke College, Oxford (and later Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London). After a couple of years playing in a rock band, he joined the Civil Service, eventually leaving in 2011 to spend more time writing. 
                Tim now lives in Yorkshire with his wife and daughter and divides his time between creative writing, academic research and part-time teaching and other work for Leeds and Huddersfield Universities.

                Tim’s first novel, Zeus of Ithome, a historical novel about the struggle of the ancient Messenians to free themselves from Sparta, was published by Crooked Cat in November 2013; his second, Revolution Day, in June 2015.  Tim also writes poetry and the occasional short story, plays guitar, and likes to walk up hills.