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.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

TIME AND TROUBLE - a guest post by Nancy Jardine

Today I once again have the pleasure of chatting to my dear friend and fellow-scribe Nancy Jardine, who is here to talk about her new mystery thriller, Take Me Now.

Welcome back, Nancy!  Over to you...

Thank you, Sue!

How much trouble is time with you? Hmm. That might sound like an odd way to introduce a blog post but, for me, the aspect of time is a huge factor in my novels.

Getting the timeline correct for my contemporary mystery thriller Take Me Now took a little work since my main female character, Aela Cameron, has a finite amount of days in her temporary employment contract with Nairn Malcolm. There’s no hanging about for Nairn who likes everything done in a hurry – even though he’s a tad incapacitated. The mystery needs solved before what is potentially lethal really does become a deadly outcome, so the days are numbered in the storyline.

In Take Me Now, I wanted to convey two main things about Nairn Malcolm. One was that a normally active and energetic alpha male like Nairn would have major difficulty with incapacitation and wouldn’t stop doing what he normally does just because he’s sporting a pair of crutches under his armpits. The second thing was that someone like Nairn’s business schedule would still be equally as important to him as finding the saboteur who is both harming his businesses and himself.

The sequence of events in Take Me Now is compressed into a few short weeks, the temporary contract for Aela being set at one month. I dithered a little over that decision because the healing of broken bones averages at around 6 weeks but then concluded that after four weeks an enterprising invalid will have found sufficient strategies to make being ‘almost normal’ a workable thing. Since I wanted to inject some humour into the novel, I’ve made Nairn’s initial weeks after his mysterious accident very action-packed, though also very frustrating for a developing romantic situation. Crutches and broken ribs do not make a casual amorous clutch!

I’ve personally never suffered from any bone fractures so imagination had to kick in big time when I wrote the novel. How about you? Would you say it’s a reasonable assumption to state that after around four weeks, even though still in plaster cast/s an accident victim will have ‘almost’ normal mobility? And that an alpha male, aided by an equally alpha female (if there is such a phrase), would manage to cope much sooner in the recuperation phase, as Nairn has?

Whatever your answer, I thoroughly enjoyed creating my damaged Highland Hero- Nairn Malcolm in Take Me Now.

Thank you for inviting me here today, Sue - it’s lovely to pop in to see you…

Nancy Jardine writes historical romantic adventures (Celtic Fervour Series); contemporary mystery thrillers (Take Me Now, Monogamy Twist, Topaz Eyes - finalist for THE PEOPLE’S BOOK PRIZE 2014), and time-travel historical adventures for Teen/YA readers (Rubidium Time Travel Series). All historical eras are enticing and ancestry research a lovely time-suck. She regularly blogs and loves to have guests visit her blog. Facebook is a habit she’s trying to keep within reasonable bounds. Grandchild-minding takes up a few (very long) days every week and any time left is for reading, writing and watching news on TV( if lucky).

Find Nancy at the following places
About Me   

 Goodreads   Twitter @nansjar  Google+ (Nancy Jardine)   YouTube book trailer videos   Amazon UK author page   Rubidium Time Travel Series on Facebook

Friday, 10 July 2015


It's more than thirty years since I first saw Franco Zeffirelli's wonderful 1968 film of Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet.  There wasn't a dry eye in the house at the end, and I came away thinking: This is the world's greatest love story - so why does it have to end so badly?

That question haunted me for many years.  Then, a few years ago, I chanced across one of those lists of Things You Must Do Before You Die.  A lot of them didn't really appeal, but one which did catch my attention was Write The Book You Want To Read.  The book which I've always wanted to read is the alternative version of Romeo & Juliet - the version in which the star-cross'd lovers don't fall victim to a maddeningly preventable double-suicide.

Why, I asked myself, should there not be such a book?  And the answer came straight back: Why not indeed?  And if it doesn't exist, then go ahead and write it.

I mulled over the idea, but it took a while before anything definite happened.  I'd dabbled with Creative Writing in the past, and had taken a few courses on the subject, but I'd never attempted to write anything longer than poems, or short stories, or the occasional stroppy letter to The Times.  The thought of tackling a full-length novel, even one on a subject which I felt so strongly, was a daunting prospect.  Then, in one of those serendipitous moments which really make one believe in Guardian Angels, I was browsing in a bookshop in France when I came across a novel which took the form of the lost diary of a woman who had been the secret lover of Count Dracula.  A voice in my mind whispered, "A lost diary?  You could do something like this..."

Back at home I powered up the laptop and started writing.  I was writing the book mainly for myself, because it was the outcome which I'd always wanted, but when I'd finished the first draft (which took about six months) I showed it to a couple of close friends, who both said "This is good.  You really ought to take it further."

Even so, despite this vote of confidence, it was another year or two (during which time the manuscript underwent several revisions) before I plucked up the courage to submit it to Crooked Cat Publishing (for whom I'd recently started doing editing work).  I wasn't very hopeful, so when I received the email from them telling me they wanted to publish it, I had to print it out and re-read it four times before I could convince myself that I hadn't imagined the whole thing.

The book's title, The Ghostly Father, is based on a quotation from the play (it's how Romeo addresses the character of Friar Lawrence), and the story, which is a sort of part-prequel, part-sequel to the original tale, is told from the Friar's point of view.  I've always been fascinated by the Friar and have often wondered why, in the play, he behaved as he did - and by giving him what I hope is an interesting and thought-provoking backstory, I've tried to offer some possible answers.  Plus, of course, I wanted to reduce the overall body-count, and give the lovers themselves a rather less tragic dénouement.

The book was officially released on St Valentine's Day 2014.  Since then, judging by the number of people who have bought it, read it, and have been kind enough to say they've enjoyed it, it seems as though I'm not by any means the only person who prefers the alternative ending.  As one friend was generous enough to say to me recently: "Now I will never feel sad in Verona again."

To buy The Ghostly Father (in paperback or ebook format), click on the book cover on the right.

Friday, 19 June 2015

TRACE YOUR ROOTS - a guest post by Maureen Vincent-Northam

Today I'm delighted to welcome fellow Crooked Cat author Maureen Vincent-Northam, whose book Trace your Roots is published today by Crooked Cat Publishing.  I had the pleasure of working with Maureen as editor of Trace Your Roots - and I can highly recommend it to anyone interested in researching family history.

Welcome, Maureen!  Please tell us more...

Thank you, Sue!

I love detective stories – my favourite being the cosy crime sort with an inquisitive amateur sleuth who pokes around looking for clues, asks questions and ultimately, after much nosing around, cracks the case.

Maybe that’s why I turned to family history research because genealogy is very like detective work. It’s all about searching out the truth, finding clues – about your ancestors in this instance, rather than a devious criminal – and assembling the final picture (or in our case the ‘family tree’).

The clues involve tracking down dates and places and who did what to whom. The proof of your findings will, hopefully, be in the original records. But there are times when you’ll get stuck and, unless you have a side-kick who, like in the whodunit novels, happens to hit upon the very thing that untangles the mystery (usually without realising they’ve done so), you’ll need a handy guide to help lead the way.

Enter Trace your Roots! The book has hundreds of helpful, tried and tested, tips – many involving less well know resources that will steer you in the right direction. It was satisfying to write and I hope it will encourage others to solve their own family puzzle.

Please join me on my genealogy blog, I’m always happy to post other people’s stories:

Maureen Vincent-Northam has written seriously ever since Father Christmas left her a Petite typewriter. Author of Trace your Roots, she also wrote Black Dog’s Treasure and co-authored The Writer’s ABC Checklist.

An editor with Crooked Cat Publishing, her work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, anthologies and online. She has tutored workshops, judged online writing contests and a few years ago was winner of The Writers’ Advice Centre for Children’s Books competition.

Maureen works part time in a residential home, is rubbish at cooking and, when not burning dinner, can usually be found surrounded by empty chocolate wrappers.

Friday, 5 June 2015


Last year (2014) saw the hundredth anniversary of the start of the First World War - the one which at the time was called "The War To End Wars."  Sadly that title proved to be horribly and tragically inaccurate; many more wars have found their way into the history books during the ninety-odd years since the Armistice was declared in November 1918.

One such war took place in the Spring and early Summer of 1982.  This was the Falklands War between Britain and Argentina, fought over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic.  It is this war which forms a distant backdrop for my second novel, Nice Girls Don't.

Like Emily, the heroine of the story, I was too young to remember the Second World War, but I was brought up by people who did.  My parents' and grandparents' generations had lived through one (or in some cases two) major conflicts - the second of which claimed many civilian as well as military casualties.  But the Falklands War was the first occasion in my lifetime when my home country had actively gone to war.  And, just like Emily, I was confused and bewildered.  Would this war, like those before it, also involve conscription and mass-slaughter?  What effect would it have on the day-to-day lives of ordinary people?

This led, in turn, to my thinking back to the other major conflicts of the twentieth century, the effect they had on those who fought and those who served by standing and waiting, and the long shadows which they could still cast over future generations.  What if, when researching one's family history, one discovers secrets which, because of those wars, have been kept hidden for many years because of shame and guilt?

Nice Girls Don't is perhaps best described as cross-genre.  Yes, it's a romance, but it also has a generous helping of mystery and intrigue.  But it is also a story which will, I hope, challenge a few traditionally-held views.  It is difficult to discuss these in detail here without giving away too much of the story, but suffice it to say that whilst two of the episodes described in the book are based on real events, most of the narrative holds up a mirror to the circumstances, ideas and attitudes of the period.  I hope it will appeal to anyone who remembers the 1980s, but I hope also that it will show younger readers (of both genders) how much has changed - hopefully for the better - over the course of a generation.