Saturday, 29 August 2015

A Conversation with Simon Mawer

Simon Mawer was born in 1948 in England. Like many children whose fathers were in the RAF, he spent a nomadic childhood in England, Cyprus and Malta. Educated first at Millfield boarding school in Somerset, it was here that he learnt the importance of being able ‘…to preserve a secret, interior world.’ All good qualities for a potential writer. When people ask him where he comes from, he says he is still ‘…unable to reply. I have lived in Italy for more than three decades, but Italy is not home. Home is where the mind is, perhaps.’ He went on to study zoology at Oxford University, Brasenose College, before becoming a teacher of biology. 

Mawer is the prolific author of ten novels and two non fiction books, his bibliography is still growing. The Glass Room, published by Little, Brown in January 2009, was on the Man Booker shortlist. His current novel is entitled Tightrope. The UK hardback and the e-book are out now. Tightrope is the postwar story of Marian Sutro, protagonist of The Girl Who Fell From The Sky. You can read the first chapter of Tightrope here.

Mawer published his first novel, Chimera, (Hamish Hamilton, 1989) at the comparatively late age of thirty-nine. It won the McKitterick Prize for first novels. He has lived in Italy since 1977, where he taught Biology at a British International School before becoming a full time writer in 2010. 

In 1990, Mawer was awarded the McKitterick Prize for Chimera. In 2003, the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain LiteratureThe Fall; which also made the Man Booker Prize, longlist. 2009 saw The Glass Room shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and the Walter Scott Prize, shortlist, in 2010.

We were very pleased and honoured when Simon agreed to be interrogated by us. Here’s what he said:

Tell us of your journey as a writer
Journey? Or aimless rambling? I guess it began when I started telling stories – usually of dubious taste – to my fellow inmates in prep school. This was in the late 1950s. Later, when I made my ambitions public, my parents pointed out that you need a day job if you want to write. Pretty good advice really. So I drifted towards university with vague ideas of becoming a doctor (Chekhov? Somerset Maugham?), but afterwards drifted into biology teaching to give me nice long holidays for writing. Marriage and family slowed things up a bit and it wasn’t until I was in my late 30s that I was brave enough to subject a completed novel to the baleful gaze of agents. Rather to my surprise the book (Chimera) was taken on and sold on first submission (to Hamish Hamilton). Despite that book disappearing without trace, the aimless rambling had taken on some kind of direction. One or two books later my biology (I love biology) came into the mix with Mendel’s Dwarf and my first US publication. That was when people began, just began, to take a bit of notice.  

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?
I don’t see myself as having a role as a writer – it’s just something I do. And I often wonder what I enjoy about it – it’s not easy and it does take inordinate amounts of time. But I do get immense pleasure from hearing from people who have themselves enjoyed my writing. The money comes in useful too.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?
I empathise with all major characters – you can’t write convincingly if you don’t – and I’ve fallen in love with more than one. Marian Sutro in particular. But who’s fooling whom? Characters are creations in words and the only real test is whether the reader can picture them – whether, for a few minutes, the writer can suspend the reader’s disbelief. And if one or two characters come across as a bit dodgy, even despicable – perhaps Lanik in The Glass Room – well, you love your children, warts and all.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?
I’ve never thought of writing anywhere other than home. That happens to have been Italy for the last 38 years, more by accident than planning. I don’t look out on a Tuscan olive grove with the sea in the distance and cicadas buzzing in the pine trees; I look out on other houses and the window is closed and the air conditioning is on because it is unbearably hot in summer. It could be anywhere else. As long as it’s home.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

What advice do you have for would be novelists?
Don’t. Become a dentist or an accountant. They’re always in work.

But if you must attempt a novel, then understand that the answer does not lie in creative writing courses, it lies in imagination and a way with words and a rigorous ability to criticise your own work. The business of a novelist is sculpting with words. Words are fickle, evanescent things and it is never easy to organise them properly. You must work away at them over and over again. Write and rewrite. Read them out loud and listen to them. You’ve got to develop an ear for words. That’s the key to writing –  it’s not what you meant, it’s what you have actually written. All that exists are the words on the page.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?
Insecurity seems to be the abiding characteristic of most novelists. Yes, I’m writing something at the moment, but will it be my next novel? I’ve no idea. With experience one gains the ability to write convincing passages but a novel is more than a collection of such passages strung together. It needs shape and structure. Has it got that? Not yet. Will it ever have? I don’t know.

You can follow Simon on Twitter: @smamawer

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Ever dreamed of writing a novel?

Ever dreamed of writing a novel?
Now you can with Greenacre Writers Novel Focus Group

This monthly meeting will help with planning your novel, developing plot, characterisation, dialogue, point of view, first chapter, as well as giving you feedback on your writing. 

Where and when:
TBC (possibly Friern Barnet)

About Course Tutor:
Allen Ashley has been published in dozens of books and magazines in the UK, USA, Canada and Spain and has now passed his first century of short story publications. Allen is a highly respected author equally adept at novels, short stories, poetry and lyrics. He is also well known for a wealth of critical commentary and non-fiction articles and, more recently, as an acclaimed and award winning editor.

As well as being a writer and editor, Allen has run writing workshops and panels in the London boroughs of Enfield, Newham and Tower Hamlets as well as at the conventions Alt. Fiction in Derby and the BFS Fantasy Con (in Walsall and Nottingham). He runs a number of workshops in North London.

For further details or to reserve a place, please contact:
Allen Ashley

Sunday, 16 August 2015

To Review or Not...

Susmita Chatto talks about being a book reviewer for The Bookbag

For the last few years I’ve enjoyed the privilege of reviewing books for The Bookbag, an online treasure trove featuring works of fiction and non-fiction as well author interviews and competitions.

I have been a voracious reader all my life. On one level, my love for stories is about escapism, but I also enjoy studying how and why they work – or don’t! – and I am always keen to learn more about the creative process behind fiction of all kinds.

I was delighted when I got through the Bookbag’s application process but I was also nervous about the task ahead. Never having written a novel, I worried that any criticisms I made might seem invalid. However, the first book I had was a real gem - Erin Kelly’s The Poison Tree, her debut novel, and oddly enough that made me understand my task a little better.

The sheer volume of books on the market means that most new books have only a tiny voice in the promotional world. Reviewing provides the opportunity to go fairly deep into the reasons why I have enjoyed a book so much and I hope that speaks to potential readers. All reviews on the Bookbag are spoiler free, but I try to address issues including style and structure so that readers of my reviews will get a sense of whether or not a book is a good choice for them.

The first time I had to review a book I didn’t enjoy, I thought about it really carefully because I thought it was important to keep in mind that some people would enjoy it and just because I hadn’t, that wasn’t a reason to deem it “bad”. I felt the main thing was to review the book the author had actually written. That may seem blindingly obvious, but I am sometimes surprised at statements made by critics and reviewers. The point of critically appraising the work that has been put in front of you is to do just that; telling the potential reading audience that the book would have been better placed in the 18th century than the 19th century, or that the hero should have been male and not female, seems to me to be missing the point.

I also feel it is fair to comment if I find the writing style confusing or clunky. Another problem that crops up sometimes is that of ramping up suspense so high that whatever happens cannot really meet expectations. It’s a fine balance; the ramping up itself is a key storytelling skill as it keeps the reader engaged, but if what follows is a let-down, then the story as a whole cannot be said to have worked. I also comment if I feel that characters have been under developed and if anything has been over-described.

Overall I try to give a fair sense of the book and always highlight good points as well as problems. I am also honest about my favourite types of fiction and state if it the book I am reviewing is the type I am naturally drawn to. I want readers to glean fair and balanced information from my reviews, so I feel it’s important to include those notes.

That said, reviewing has expanded my range of reading. For example, left to myself, I might have not have read Stephen Grosz’s The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves or Matthew Kneale’s An Atheist’s History of Belief. However, reviewing books has also made me conscious of keeping up with non-fiction in order to keep relating to fiction. Both those books are beautifully written and gave me a window into subjects I might not have explored otherwise.

Reviewing books has also given me the chance to help promote books that didn’t get as much fanfare as I expected. Examples include Eliza Graham’s The History Room , and Alison Love’s The Girl at the Paradise Ballroom. These both feature fascinating stories at their very core, compelling and relatable characters and sophisticated writing.

Now that I’ve been reviewing for a while, I am also seeing authors progress in their careers. A recent example is Martine Bailey. Her first book, An Appetite for Violets, was a really enjoyable read, but her second book, The Penny Heart, was even better; a triumph of tactical storytelling.

I do still choose to read some books purely for pleasure - but my adventures in reviewing – despite being a little nerve wracking at times! – have enhanced my appreciation of all kinds of writing as well as increasing my book collection. I’ve also enjoyed meeting some of the authors in person as well as chatting with them on social media. This has provided me with further insight into the novels, enhancing the experience even more. If you are looking for a way to expand your enjoyment of books, I can definitely recommend reviewing!

If you would like to review for the Bookbag, you can find the application details here

If you are a writer and would like to submit your work the Bookbag, you can find information here

You can Follow Susmita Chatto on Twitter @Scarletttelling

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

A Conversation with Hayley Webster

Hayley Webster was born in 1977 and lived for most of her childhood in Thatcham, Berkshire. After achieving a first class BA in Literature from Essex University, Hayley trained as a teacher and taught for a while before working as a journalist for a magazine.

A passionate reader and enthusiastic writer Hayley studied for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia where she received a distinction. Shortly after she won the Escalator Award for Literature which gave her the opportunity to develop her first novel, Jar Baby, published in 2012.

Jar Baby: Diana Rickwood’s formative years, living with her famous fashion designer Uncle Rohan, were far from glamourous. Banished into the background, forbidden to interact with the models, Diana lives a lonely life. When at 19, her uncle is engaged to Stella Avery, Diana goes to London to escape the memories of abuse perpetrated by Stella’s chauffeur. For the next ten years she breaks all contact to forget her past. The darker side of fairy tales where abuse, violence and fear are common themes, are used effectively to convey Diana’s lonely and troubled existence.

However upon Uncle Rohan’s death Diana is forced to revisit the past and, as supressed memories surface, she uncovers secrets and lies which mask a shameful family past. Through the characters of Jar Baby, Hayley captures, in her unique style, the darker side of human nature. She also injects humour and a lighter tone which contrasts well with the more disturbing aspects of the novel.

Thank you Hayley for the following wonderful answers and good luck with your future writing.

Tell us of your journey as a writer
I like that question because I find it interesting looking back to the start, to work out how and why it began, to find the threads of all the stories and the words.

The bare facts of the journey are that I did a degree in Literature, I did an MA in Creative writing, and Jar Baby, my first book was published in 2012. But they feel like drawing pins in a much more detailed map of somewhere I’m still discovering all the time.

My mum started teaching me to read when I was two and half and so stories were always there. I was so lucky when I started school as they let me read books from the library when the others were learning to read. I can’t separate my journey as a writer from my journey as a reader, they are definitely plaited together. I read most of the classics between the age of around 8 – 13, I just worked my way through these ones my parents had, they were faux green leather with ‘gold’ trim. They were for display but I decided to read them. I thought them magical, like something from The Magician’s Nephew. I told myself they gave me magic powers but what they really did was give me the urge to create a narrative. But also the urge to smash a traditional narrative into pieces and make something new.

I first wrote something independent from adult supervision when I was about 8. It was a story I made into a book with pages and illustrations called The Girl with the Golden Hair, about a girl who’s reflection was far more beautiful than her and it would climb out at night and get up to things she’d get blamed for in the morning.

I wrote a lot of my own versions of Alan Bennett’s monologues during my GCSEs, one for coursework, but I kept writing them. I couldn’t leave the form alone.

I got 100% for a story I wrote at ‘A’ Level called The Bride, a sort of gothic horror story with a lot of quiet menace, a man being lured from his wife by dark music and odd happenings, and things moving in paintings. My teacher said it was a feminist treatise in story form. I was pretty pleased with that.

I guess the journey has been finding ways to write voices that I feel nobody’s heard. And my ultimate aim is to write something original with a page-turning feel because of plot, but with the language and beauty of poetry. That’s always what I’m striving for, whether I’ll ever get there or not is a different matter.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?
I guess the first answer is to tell stories. My role is to tell stories in new ways. To make people think. I’m not interested in the traditional narratives we are told again and again. I see my role to tell stories that are new, but have always been there, and haven’t had the chance to be heard.

To entertain too. You have to be lost in a book. I don’t think I’ll ever write a comforting book, although I have books I read for comfort in my reading life (Charlotte’s Web being the main one).

What I like the most about being a writer is that I’m doing the thing I’ve always wanted to do, that I’ve always had a compulsion to do, and that there are people reading what I write and making new links in their heads between my words and their own experiences. It’s like being a magician.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?
I think I’ve always done a lot of that. I believe strongly in the idea of everyone seeing him or herself as the hero of their own story, even the ‘villains’. In what I’m writing at the moment there is a female character who’s very judgemental towards other women, quite cold and takes pleasure in seeing others fail, but during the book you understand why, and hopefully grow to care for her and want her life to change.

I keep being drawn to the idea of whether there is anybody who doesn’t deserve empathy, and who gets to decide who is and isn’t. Where does the morality come from? How do we decide who is a hero and who is a villain? I’m certainly interested in those heroes who turn out to be villains and vice versa.

I wrote a character in Jar Baby, Trudy, who I really liked. I set her up as a kind of perfect mother figure, the sort I’d like, and then I played about with how that ideal might make us not notice when someone like that hasn’t got our best intentions at heart.

Trusting the wrong people is a recurrent theme in my writing.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?
In the past I would have answered this question with something like Iceland, or somewhere where there are lakes, and lots of sky. A log cabin. A cottage in the woods… but recently I’ve realised that the best place to write is where I am, wherever that is. There is never the perfect time or place to write. The main thing I need in order to write is to have a computer and some paper.

I need internet connection to look things up quickly. Or a reference library.

I need tea. Or coffee. And toast. And that’s about it.

I am happy to write wherever I find myself. I have recently realised I don’t like writing in silence or at a desk, or by a window. I’m a sitting-on-my-bed-with-notes-spread-about-me-like-wrapping-paper-at-Christmas kind of writer, I think.

That said, if someone wants to lend me a flat in the centre of Paris, my answer is an immediate, ‘YES’.

What is the one book you wish you had written?
This is such a hard question. Oh. Oh. I wish I’d written Possession by A.S. Byatt because really there is no other book like it and it is a masterpiece, bristling with knowledge and ideas and beauty and made up poetry and some bits of story that slice you in the guts. It’s not just an intellectual novel – although I love it for that – it’s brilliant on how history is written, whose stories we listen to, and how if something is not written down by an official source who’s to know it happened. I cried at the end. Proper sobbed.

If not that then Until I Find You by John Irving. Because I read that book and it was like having your body turned inside out. All the detail. And all the pain at trying to find the truth about yourself. And all the characters so detailed and real, and yet those dual seams of humour and utter despair. They are the two writers I read and think I shouldn’t bother anymore. They make me want to be better.

What advice do you have for would be novelists?
I’m not sure how anyone writes without reading. I’d say read twice as much as you write but that’s just a personal thing.

So. Write. That's it. There's never a perfect time. 85,000 awful words are better than 10 wonderful ones. I wrote a few novels that I never sent to anyone or even considered publishing. Just write. And find readers you can trust to be honest with you and a community of writers if that helps. I used to go a lot onto ten years ago and I found it invaluable and have kept many of the friendships I made there, including having a few as first readers of my work.

Oh, and ignore the goal of publication being the be all and end all. You want what you publish to be good. Just write. And celebrate redrafting. It’s so important. There is no rush. It’s a cliché but it’s the truth. If you’re waiting for the perfect time or a good idea for a story it will never happen.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?
I’m working on a book narrated by three (or more actually) women. The starting point was why are we so interested in stories of bad men’s redemption when each bad man leaves a list of invisible women in his wake? Mostly, though, it’s a mystery and about the redemptive powers of women’s friendship. And shows how easy it is to be manipulated when you have no power of your own, and asks if it’s ever possible to get that power back?

There’s a lot of dark in it, but there’s humour too. One of the narrators is a 40 year old woman who grew up in care, another is an 80 year old Doctor’s wife who’s spent her life being defined by her marriage, and the other is a fifteen year old girl during the days of the Baedker Raids in Norwich in 1942. Most of the novel is set on one street. I’ve always wanted to write a book set on one of those Norwich streets packed tight with terraced houses and hidden history, where everybody breathes each other’s memories.

You can follow Hayley on Twitter: @HayleyBooks
Jar Baby is published by: Dexter Haven Publishing

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Diverse Author Day

#diverseauthorday - September 24th

Diversity in publishing has been hitting the headlines recently with a new report commissioned by Spread the Word, Writing the Future: Black and Asian Authors and Publishers in the UK Market Place: 'A survey of publishers and literary agents indicates that of the respondents over 74 percent of those employed by large publishing houses, and an alarming 97 per cent of agents, believe that the industry is only "a little diverse" or "not diverse at all."'

This has created an ongoing conversation. You can see responses from the media here: The Guardian; Bookseller; Booktrade; The Publishers Association.

As well as Black and Asian authors there has also been a call for more diverse characters such as LGBTQ characters and disabled characters in literature.

Some of us hope to contribute to the conversation and celebrate with writers, authors and very important - readers, to join in and tweet about diverse characters in children's, YA and adult fiction novels from any period in publishing history.

The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences. The books and characters we will be publicising will be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies. 

These are just some of the writers and authors, with their Twitter names, who will be taking part in the #diverseauthorday on September 24th:

Rosie Canning @Rosie_Canning
Lindsay Bamfield @LindsayBamfield 
Naomi Frisby @Frizbot
Nikesh Shukla @nikeshshukla
Alex Wheatle @brixtonbard
Sunny Singh @sunnysingh_nw3 
Danuta Kean @danoosha
Miriam Halahmy @MiriamHalahmy
Joy Francis @wordsofcolour
Brooke Winters @3Brooke33
Alan Wylie @wylie_alan
Irenosen Okojie @IrenosenOkojie
Savita Kalhan @savitakalhan
Ellie Daines @chirpywriter
Megan Winchester @BookAddictdGirl
Emma Hutson @Emma_S_Hutson
Susan Osborne @alifeinbooks

JOIN US and celebrate our differences.

We want to move beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each book.

Use the hashtag: #diverseauthorday

Thursday, 30 July 2015

A Conversation with Joanna Campbell

Joanna Campbell’s first novel Tying Down The Lion has just been named as a contender for the Guardian’s Not the Booker prize award 2015. The Guardian pioneered this award in an attempt to select a ‘reader-judged’ winner and Joanna is among 70 on this year’s list.

Born in 1960, Joanna grew up in Hayes, Middlesex. She studied at Exeter University to obtain a degree in German and has taught both German and English as a second language. Her love of reading began at the age of three and remains today. Her passion for books has led Joanna to write over recent years and her ability to observe people and remember the little details has been invaluable in her writing.

As well as having many of her short stories published in magazines, Joanna has had her fiction shortlisted in many competitions including the Bridport, Fish and the Flannery O’Connor Award. A collection of Joanna’s prize-winning short stories, When Planets Slip Their Tracks, will be published later this year.

Tying Down The Lion came from a short story Joanna had written, 'A Temporary Uprooting', which was frequently short listed in competitions. It follows Roy Bishop and his half-German wife Bridget, accompanied by their daughter Jacqueline and Grandma Nell, as they take a road trip to Berlin in the summer of 1967. Berlin at this time is divided by the cold war and is recovering from the devastation caused by World War Two.

Grandma Nell has a dislike for foreigners, including her German daughter-in-law, and Jacqueline observes and records the interactions between the family members during their travels.
Tying Down The Lion is a book about division but also about reconciliation. It shows the necessity of family love and understanding. There is warmth and humour mixed with the reality of the prejudices and bigotry which inevitably came in the aftermath of WW2.    

The following conversation gives us the opportunity to know Joanna a little better and we wish her every success with the book.

Tell us of your journey as a writer
I started writing seriously about seven years ago, but there has never been a time when I haven’t invented people. My earliest memory is staggering around the garden with a stick, pretending to be a lame, elderly man. I did this regularly for a long time, presumably wanting to discover how it might feel to be in someone else’s skin. I was always cripplingly shy and craved time alone to make up other lives.
When I was a little older, I wrote stories and poems to amuse friends because I didn’t feel I could hold their attention any other way. When I was seven, I made a guitar from a piece of cardboard, composed a dozen poems to ‘sing’ and staged a solo Eurovision Song Contest to an audience of one—the girl next door, bribed with a sherbet fountain.
As an adult, I couldn’t find a job I loved because I always wanted to work by myself. I was terrified of teamwork because if the process ever ground to a halt, I was sure I would be exposed as the faulty cog in the machine.
I was in my late forties before I thought of sending my stories and poems to magazines and competitions. An initial boost came when I was a runner-up in a competition run by Woman and Home magazine.
Although I have never written with a particular publication or competition in mind, once a story is finished and polished, I check to see where it might fit best. When ‘The Yellow Room’—a beautiful, high-quality literary magazine founded by writer and editor, Jo Derrick—published some of my first stories, I felt I had set foot on a path that I had always wanted to find and follow. It seemed to lead me to buried treasure and I haven’t been able to resist unearthing more and more ever since.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?
My role is to entertain the readers; for my words to move them, either to laughter or tears—hopefully in all the right places. If even one person is stirred by what they see on the page, then that is enough for me.
It is thrilling to be shortlisted in a competition or to be one of the winners, but to hear someone say they were gripped by my story or that they laughed out loud, or shed a tear, is the real prize.
Positive feedback is the greatest accolade of all and the knowledge that I have added some value, however fleeting, to someone’s life is my favourite aspect of being a writer.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?
Bridget Bishop, the narrator’s mother in Tying Down The Lion, made me bristle at first. She is enveloped in her own past and preoccupied with her quest to go ‘home’ to Berlin. However, as Bridget led me deeper into her story and took me into the past, she revealed the depth of her suffering and the disconnection with her roots had damaged her ability to notice how much her new family in England needed her.
I met her as a fragmented person with a confused sense of self, and readers will find out if a more complete woman emerges in the end. What I have learned from Bridget is that we are all on a quest to establish our own identity, and should try to understand—rather than feel alienated by—each other’s missions.

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?
There are two places. One is the garden of the house in Middlesex where I grew up. I’m sure it was quite ordinary, but it seemed magical when I was a small child, with its low walls and little steps that led to different levels. It was a perfect place for solitary games of make-believe and therefore endless possibilities. It is without doubt where, after inventing my first characters, I began to think, “What if…?”
The other place is a high-ceilinged apartment on the top floor of a once-grand town-house in the former East Berlin, where I once stayed on holiday. The shabby building still showed remnants of its former grandeur and the street below had become bohemian and bustling with life since the fall of the Wall. The apartment was steeped in history, evoking both the luxury of a golden era and the barbaric slicing into flats that followed during the years of communist rule. The preliminary ideas for Tying Down The Lion acquired a real shape there.
But my favourite place of all to write is my home, a small cottage in a quiet Cotswold village. If I were told I could never leave it, then providing all my family were there too, I would be content.

What is the one book you wish you had written?
I am having difficulty choosing between two, so if I may, I would wish I had written either Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons or Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns. I love both these novels for their eccentricity, the rich characterisation and wry, natural humour. I have been kept from reading many a new book by my longing to return to these and re-read them all over again.

What advice do you have for would be novelists?
In one word—finish!
Seriously, the first stage of writing a novel is like hanging out the washing on a bright day with a decent breeze. Every peg brings pleasure. The sheets are billowing and the shirts are swelling. The outlook is hopeful.
But after a while, the sky darkens and a storm lashes at your laundry-line. If you battle through the downpour, you will bring it all in—eventually. However, after that, worse is to come. You will actually become the wet sheets and dripping shirts as each of them is fed—slowly and painfully—through a mangle.
Beginnings are easy and full of hope, but you have to rise to the challenge when the clouds gather. Progress can be painful and slow, but it will be worth it. I spent five years writing and researching Tying Down The Lion, but a beautiful dawn chorus heralded the final words as I typed them and made every moment I spent putting myself through the wringer absolutely worthwhile.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?
I am currently promoting Tying Down The Lion and also thinking of ways to promote my short story collection, due for release later this year. This is so different from writing! I am naturally quiet and shy, so thrusting my book at people seems a world away from where I should be. However, it can be a lot of fun too and I have made new friends, both online and in ‘real life’, as a result. All my family have helped me with ideas for publicity and been so supportive that I wonder how I would manage it without them.
I am also writing a novel I started two years ago that is now nearing the end of the first draft. There will be many more drafts to come, but it is beginning to feel less shapeless. I have changed the structure three times, settling for four different viewpoint characters with alternating chapters, and I feel comfortable with it for the first time.
This new novel is about a family who experience a tragedy and must find their way through the dark times that follow. Only the reader is aware of a potential new disaster lying in wait.
The characters have reached the stage where they are leading me and dictating the course of events. I am looking forward to seeing how it ends and hope they all find what they are searching for. I won’t know until I reach their final chapter.

Thank you so much to Greenacre Writers for inviting me to join in this conversation. I have so enjoyed answering your questions.

You can follow Joanna on twitter: @PygmyProse
Tying Down The Lion is published by Brick Lane Publishing

Sunday, 26 July 2015

A Conversation with Linda Huber

Linda Huber lives in Arbon, Switzerland where she works as a language teacher in the beautiful and inspirational setting of Arbon Castle, overlooking Lake Constance. Born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, Linda left for Switzerland, aged 22, with the view to working and travelling for a year but remained there to raise her two children. 

Linda originally trained as a physiotherapist and worked in this field for many years before moving into teaching. Close contact with neurological patients and handicapped children has given her an insight into the different coping mechanisms people have when faced with difficult and stressful situations and this has helped her in her writing.

Linda has had the writing bug since she was very young and has seen over fifty of her short stories and articles published. She loves to read suspense and thrillers and writes in this genre.

Although Linda has been writing throughout her life she considered it a hobby until the publication of her first novel, The Paradise Trees, in September 2013. Just a year later, in August 2014, The Cold Cold Sea, was published and now, July 2015, her third novel, The Attic Room, has just been released.

The Attic Room: When Nina is bequeathed a substantial estate from a man she has never heard of her life is thrown into turmoil as she unpicks the threads of her past and that of her mysterious benefactor. Having travelled from her house on Arran to see the house she has inherited, Nina becomes embroiled in blackmail and lies as she uncovers dark family secrets. It is a novel full of suspense and intrigue and we wish Linda every success with it. A trailer of the novel can be viewed.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I started as a seven-year-old, doing my Writer’s Badge in the Brownies and discovering that this was something I REALLY enjoyed. That was it; I haven’t stopped for longer than a few weeks ever since. As a youngster I wrote stories about children and these became novels for children. By the time I had my own boys I was also writing short stories for magazines, and when that was moderately successful I began my first adult novel, the book which became The Cold Cold Sea. I sent it to a few agents over the years but never really thought it would be published. But to my astonishment, in 2012 Legend Press picked up my second novel The Paradise Trees (thus turning it into my first published one) and I was a published writer!

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?
I love writing – creating my paper people, shaping their world, their hopes and fears, their story. It’s the best feeling in the world when you write something and it works. I’m not sure I have a role as a writer because I write very selfishly, for myself first of all. And in a way it’s like having children – I love my book ‘babies’ and I’m gratified when others like them too, but I would still feel the same about them if no one else ever read them.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?
No. I’ve created a character who does awful things – the Stranger in The Paradise Trees – but although I see what made him the way he is, that isn’t truly empathy because I don’t understand how anyone could make such bad choices. Many people have similar childhoods without becoming Strangers. In The Cold Cold Sea I can empathise with Phillip, who does a truly terrible thing, but he’s such a nice guy, I just want to hug him!

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing?
Ooh, if instant transport was available I’d go to a different place every week and soak up inspiration. I’d start in Scotland, on one of the islands, then I’d go to Cornwall and Greece and to Hawaii and California and New York. It sounds amazing. Wish it was possible!

What is the one book you wish you had written?
A High Wind in Jamaica (by Richard Hughes).

What advice do you have for would be novelists?
When you’ve written your novel, you’re a novelist, and your job now is to make it the best novel it can become. For this you need outside help. (If I’m allowed to make recommendations here I’ll mention The Writers’ Workshop. I still work with the editor I met there in 2011.) Then you can choose if you want to look for an agent, a small indie publisher, or self publish. There’s never been as much choice as we have today.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?
I’ve just self-published The Attic Room and hope to have another out this year or early next. Then I have a further completed and edited novel and at the moment I’m swithering about what to do with this one. My work-in-progress has a working title of The Death of Grandma Vee. It’s based on a lengthy subplot we edited out of The Attic Room because it was really a novel in itself. It’s fascinating using it now with different characters - the plot is developing in quite a different way.

You can follow Linda on Twitter:@LindaHuber19