Interview with Shelan Rodger, author of Yellow Room

Today I am delighted to welcome Shelan Rodger to my blog. Several years ago Shelan invited me to my first London literary event where I mingled with, amongst others, Broo Doherty and Anne Cater, both unknown to me at the time. I am delighted that Dome Press have chosen to release her beautifully written second novel, Yellow Room, which deserves to find a wide audience. Shelan has provided excellent answers to my questions – I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did.

 

1. Can you tell my readers a little about yourself and your background?

‘Writer and wilderness lover with a patchwork life’ is how I describe myself on Twitter. Born in Nigeria, I grew up in an aboriginal community on the Tiwi Islands north of Australia. I was eleven when my family moved to England and after graduating in modern languages from Oxford, my travels began again and I spent a number of years in Argentina and Kenya, before moving to Spain, where I live on a volcanic stretch of coastline in Andalucía.

Professionally, I started as an English language teacher, moving into a variety of roles over the years, all connected to international education, or learning & development projects around anti-discrimination and leadership during the time I spent in Africa.

Writing has been a lifelong passion, fuelled by a fascination with what shapes us and our sense of who we are – which I’m sure is partly driven by the mish-mash of cultures and landscapes in my own life!

2. Can you tell us about Yellow Room?

Yellow Room is a drama that explores the power of secrets, the forces that mould our sense of personal identity, the grey areas that flow between the boundaries of relationships. It is set in England and Kenya, with a poignant insight into the 2008 post-election crisis that took over a thousand lives.

3. What inspired the book?

Yellow Room was born from a very simple idea which I cannot share without giving too much away! But it grew out of a fascination with what creates our sense of who we are and whether the ‘I’ we believe in really exists or is just an illusion. And secrets! Why are we so fascinated by them? Why do we have them? Secrets are insidious, powerful, pervasive, also a clue to our sense of personal identity if we listen to them –  and I wanted to explore their power through the lives of my characters in Yellow Room.

I also wanted to explore the way our inner world interacts with and can be affected by another culture and external events around us and I did this against the backdrop of Kenya, where I was living when I wrote the first draft of the book. Much of the insight into the historical events, as well as the lives of street kids in Naivasha, is inspired by personal experience.

4. When writing, are you an architect who researches and plans everything in advance or a gardener who plants an idea and allows it to develop organically?

Definitely a gardener – and I love this image! I start with a vision of the tree I want to create and then rather blindly plant the seed that I hope will bear fruit, watering and nurturing my idea along the way, but also aware that the tree may turn out to look quite different to what I had initially envisaged, as it grows.

5. What is your favourite thing about being a writer?

It doesn’t happen all the time of course, but those special moments when you achieve a state of flow that is almost like being in a trance, when words just seem to wash through you and it feels as though you are just a vessel for the characters on your page to speak through. There is something very earthy and connected about that feeling, the sheer wonder of creativity.

6. And your least favourite?

Eternally brushing that monkey off your shoulder, the one who looks down at what you’re writing and says, that’s a pile of crap, who do you think you are? Or even, very occasionally, wow that’s amazing. I know that this monkey is not what I need – he can come out later and behave appropriately when it gets to editing but I don’t want him around when I’m writing.

7. Do you enjoy using social media?

I am a social media novice really. If social media were someone I was dating, I would say that I’m not quite sure what I think of him yet. He makes me feel connected, shows me the glamour of a bigger world and yet I am shy in his company and not sure I can trust him yet…

8. How actively do you seek out reviews of your books?

I read reviews with real curiosity to see how individuals react to my books, aware that everyone will respond differently and loving the various nuances that come through. Whether they are heart-warming, challenging, insightful – full of praise or even damning – reviews are life-affirming for a writer I think. Because at the end of the day writing is only one part of the process; being read is the other. And the insight into a reader’s response is a true privilege.

9. What do you choose to do when you wish to treat yourself?

Gosh, anything from a massage, or a sundowner somewhere beautiful with a friend, to meditating on a cliff overlooking the sea.

10. What books have you read and enjoyed recently?

Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for The Time Being was a book I found intriguing; I love the way she explores and crosses the boundaries between past and present, between fact and fiction, between writer and reader.

Amanda Jennings is a writer fascinated by the different identities we all have inside us and what trauma and twists can do to wake these up and this is born out again by her latest novel, In Her Wake, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Haruki Murakami’s South of the Border, West of the Sun was a delicious recent read; the almost dream-like way he uses language and the poignant exploration of buried love and longing.

11. Who would you like to sit down to dinner with, real or from fiction?

Gosh, that’s a difficult question, there are so many – real and fictitious!

Carmen de Burgos was a Spanish author and feminist activist born in 1867. She was an extraordinary and brave character, one of those people who make history, a woman who fought for freedom at a time and place where women were far from free. And she was born in the village of Rodalquilar, where I live in southern Spain, so it would be fascinating if she could time travel now to sit down with me for dinner at a local restaurant in the place of her birth.

12. What question has no interviewer asked that you wish they would?

What an interesting but difficult question! Well, a lot of questions that writers are asked naturally have to do with what their books are about and what has inspired them or the writing process that created them. I haven’t (yet!) been asked the question: ‘What difference, if any, would you like your writing to make?’ I think that would introduce an interesting perspective, about what an author aspires to in terms of the relationship between writer and reader and the tiny part they play in the world…

Yellow Room is published by The Dome Press.

This post is a stop on the Yellow Room Blog Tour. Do check out the other blogs taking part, detailed below.

You may read my review of the original release of Yellow Room here.

 

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Interview with Piu Eatwell, author of Black Dahlia Red Rose

Author Photo by Carsten Wilde

Today I am delighted to welcome true crime writer Piu Eatwell to my blog. Piu’s latest novel, Black Dahlia Red Rose, solves the seventy year old mystery of who murdered aspiring starlet Elizabeth Short, whose body was found dumped on waste ground in a Los Angeles suburb in January 1947 (you may read my review of the book here). Piu has provided fascinating answers to the questions I sent her for this post. I hope that you enjoy reading them as much as I did.

 

1. Can you tell my readers a little about yourself and your background? 

Hard to know where to start on that one! Well, I’m British but have lived in Paris, France, for over ten years now.  I’m married to an Englishman, with three children who were born in France and are growing up here.  I started off writing books about life as an English woman in France, but have moved on to crime writing as it’s where I see my true vocation as a writer. Black Dahlia, Red Rose is my fifth book: my last was a real-life Edwardian thriller and detective story, The Dead Duke

2. Can you tell us about Black Dahlia Red Rose? 

Black Dahlia, Red Rose is the true-life story of one of the most famous unsolved murders of all time: the murder of 22 year old Hollywood starlet Elizabeth Short, whose bisected body was found tossed on a pavement in Los Angeles in January 1947.  In writing the book I went back to original sources – contemporary newspaper reports and police files – to reconstruct what I believe really happened in this case. 

3. What inspired the book? 

I have been long interested in Hollywood and crime, ever since researching a film for Channel 4 television about the Manson murders a while back.  In order to make that film, I spent almost a year in Los Angeles and learned a lot about the recent history of the city.  I decided I wanted to investigate another famous crime that took place in LA, and of course, the Dahlia murder must be one of the most notorious and intriguing of them all.   

 4. Your true crime books are written as stories. How much leeway do you allow yourself when documenting the facts to ensure the storytelling remains engaging? 

This is something that gives rise to misunderstanding, because a lot of people think that – because my books are written like fiction – that I am therefore making things up.  In fact, this is not at all the case.  Everything that is between quotation marks is accurately reported dialogue, taken from contemporary sources such as police interviews or memoirs.  If I describe the weather on a particular day, it is because I looked up the historical weather reports.  As such, my books are as completely accurate as more conventional non-fiction – but because they read like a novel, a lot of people don’t realize this.  It is something that I therefore explained in the introduction to Black Dahlia, Red Rose. 

5. What is your favourite part of being a writer? 

Being totally immersed in another world – and this is the case whether I am writing fiction or non-fiction.  Also, I love the process of constructing the story or plot – again, essentially the same with fiction and non-fiction, except that with non-fiction the events have already been determined, you have to decide how you are going to present them, or put them together.   

6. And your least favourite? 

I dislike the “in-between times” – as now – when I have just finished a book, and have therefore been forced to tear myself away from that world.  Until I get my next project, I feel bereft and rather lost without the magic, inner world that always accompanies me whenever I am working on a book.   

7. Do you enjoy social media? 

I think social media is a mixed blessing in that it can be a wonderful tool to reach out to readers and also to keep up with what is going on in the world of books, but it is also a dreadful distraction that often keeps me from working!  Also, one thing I dislike about social media is the culture it has fostered by which people feel they have the right to say what they like, without any of the boundaries of politeness that govern more conventional discourse, leading to trolling, harassing, etc of writers and other public figures.  Politeness is something that should be universal and from which no forum should be exempt. 

8. Do you seek out reviews of your books? 

I am always happy to encourage honest reviews of my books because that, after all, is the point of writing: it’s a form of communication, and if a book is not being discussed, it’s no longer a living thing.  Having said that, I don’t see the value to anybody of reviews that merely trash books in a thoughtless way, or the kind of Amazon review that gives a book one star because it ‘arrived late.’  Again, as I said above, social media gives everybody enormous privileges and powers, in giving each of us a voice; but along with that voice, in my view, comes a certain amount of responsibility.  

9. What do you do when you wish to treat yourself? 

Lots of things!  A glass of champagne is my unfailing treat to myself when a manuscript is finally finished and sent off to the publisher.  I also love English pork pies, Marmite, and cheddar cheese (which are difficult to find in France!!), and reading books that are not directly connected with my research (a rare treat). 

10. What books have you read and enjoyed recently? 

A very wide range: the ghost stories of M.R. James; a wonderful book on the history of ghosts and ghost-hunting called A Natural History of Ghosts by Roger Clarke (Penguin, 2012); and a powerful recent speculative horror novel, Hex by the Dutch writer Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Hodder & Stoughton, 2016) – the story of a seventeeth-century witch trapped in a New England town.  

11. Who would you like to sit down to dinner with, real or from fiction? 

That’s a difficult one, but I suppose if I had to choose, it would be Sherlock Holmes, as I would love to figure out how his brain ticks! 

12. What question has no interviewer asked that you wish they would? 

What my guilty pleasure is.  And in case you’re interested, it’s – of all things – renovating my children’s dolls’ house!  I have everything there in miniature 1/12th scale: right down to original paintings in the hall and tiny reproductions of my own books and those of my favourite authors in the library.  A psychologist could probably get quite Freudian about it – the search for a perfect miniature world, etc….. I find it incredibly calming. 

 

This post is a stop on the Black Dahlia, Red Rose Blog Tour. Do check out the other blogs taking part, detailed below.

Black Dahlia, Red Rose is published by Coronet and is available to buy now.

Stories from Paris – Guest Post by Alex Christofi

Today I am delighted to welcome Alex Christofi to my blog. Alex’s first novel, Glass (which I review here), was longlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize and won the Betty Trask Prize. His follow up, Let Us Be True, was published this week (my review is here). In this guest post he shares his thoughts on five real places from the book, and the stories from them that he had to include.

 

While researching my new novel, Let Us Be True, I became fascinated by the history of Paris. Wherever I looked, there were incredible stories to be found, of pioneering gardeners, hidden wine cellars, put-upon architects and bloody clashes in the streets. A few of these stories I couldn’t let go, and they made it into the novel: here are my five favourites.

1 – The Tour d’Argent

Overhead, the clouds bruised and cracked. There was a brief flash of lightning, the thunder inaudible behind the glass. He was in the world’s oldest restaurant, eating duck with a stranger who had just punched him in the head.

This Michelin-starred restaurant lays claim to being the oldest restaurant in the world, purportedly founded in 1582. Their speciality is the pressed duck, which was traditionally eight weeks old, fattened for fifteen days and then strangled, to retain the blood. The wine list is also 400 pages long. It has a great literary heritage, having been referenced not only by Marcel Proust and Ernest Hemingway, but also the 2007 Pixar animated adventure Ratatouille.

2 – Nanterre

Ralf followed the road, hoping to ask someone for directions. Next to the cleared land of the building site was an improvised town, laid out in rows to give the impression of planning, of order – a place where great pride and care presided over mud and scrap metal.

Nanterre is a fascinating place, though a little off the tourist beat. Once an improvised slum (a bidonville or ‘jerrycan town’) housing poor Algerian immigrants, who sometimes found it difficult to rent in the city either because of the cost or because of the prejudices of
landlords, the University of Paris bought a site there and built a huge brutalist campus, a little like the Barbican, but uglier and easier to navigate. The Nanterre campus would be one of the epicentres of the 1968 student protests, which spread and developed over the course of the spring into full blown riots and a general strike, bringing the whole country to a halt.

3 – The Tuileries

‘You know what they do to silk moths?’ said Elsa. ‘They boil them alive and unravel the whole cocoon using tiny looms.’
‘I didn’t know that.’
‘No. All sorts of things have happened here. I think it’s untoward for a garden to have so much history.’

The Tuileries in the centre of the city might look like an oasis of calm, but they are probably the most eventful gardens in the world. Named after the roof tilers that used to work there before Catherine de Medici bought the land, the garden was the site of the one of the first hot air balloon flights. At one point, they were vast royal gardens, and the head gardener decided to grow mulberry trees to foster a domestic silk industry there. Robespierre had a weird secular festival there, burning mannequins that represented an idiosyncratic group of sins (one of them was ‘False Simplicity’). It was a Russian garrison after the fall of Napoleon, and was also, at one point, used to store artwork looted by the Nazis – a Monet was seriously damaged in a shootout during the liberation.

4 – the Pont Saint-Michel

A police van pulled up at the far end of the bridge, and another on their side, at the entrance to Saint-Michel Métro.

An innocuous bridge metres from some of Paris’s tourist hotspots, the Pont Saint-Michel was the site of a terrible massacre of peaceful protesters by the police. On 17 October 1961, men, women and children were peacefully protesting against the curfew that had been set for all Muslim citizens. The Algerian War had been going on for years, with atrocious violence on both sides, and trust between communities was at a nadir. Unfortunately, a sub-section of the police were right-wing nationalists – in fact, the head of police at the time was Maurice Papon, who had collaborated with the Nazis during the war to deport Jews. The police violently suppressed the protest, beating people with long white batons and throwing them off the bridge into the Seine. There is no official death toll, but estimates are in the dozens.

5 – the Tour Eiffel

He looked out at the city. The sun backlit the dark clouds in chiaroscuro and for a moment broke through, catching each drop of rain so that the sunlight fell not just on surfaces but everywhere at once, manifested endlessly through the air.

The Eiffel Tower had to turn up at some point, didn’t it? You can’t visit the city without the tower peeking through the gaps between buildings, especially now that it’s equipped with that bizarre light which seems to have been inspired by the Eye of Sauron. Paris is unimaginable without it, but when it was built, poor Gustave Eiffel was the most hated architect in France. In 1887, a group of writers and artists clubbed together to petition against it, competing to see who could hurl the best insult (my personal favourites are ‘tragic street lamp’ and ‘barbarous mass overwhelming and humiliating all our monuments and belittling our works of architecture’). How times change.

 

This post is a stop on the Let Us Be True Blog Tour. Do check out the other blogs taking part, detailed below.

Let Us Be True is published by Serpent’s Tail and is available to buy now.

Where to begin – Guest Post by Anthony Cartwright

Today I am delighted to welcome Anthony Cartwright, author of The Cut, to my blog. In this guest post he talks of the Black Country where he grew up and where The Cut is set (you may read my review of the book here).

“I have lived half my life here, half in London, felt the chasm between the places widen further and further.”

The Cut was commissioned by Peirene Press 

“to build a fictional bridge between the Britains that opposed each other on referendum day.”

It is a fabulous read.

 

The EU funded some of the work you look out on now, just by the house where my uncle used to live, here on a terrace elevated above the Birmingham Road traffic. You used to be able to look into the old football ground from the upstairs bedrooms. Beyond that was the County Ground, where in summers gone my great-grandad would sit in his deckchair behind the bowler’s arm, out of the wind, with a pint of mild. He could look at the castle on the hill, listen to the clang of metal being bashed. The people loved Tom Graveney, Basil D’Oliveira, the Headleys; sons of England and Cape Town and Jamaica and Dudley. The town is an enclave of Worcestershire within Staffordshire; hence the cricket. The earth opened one morning in the eighties and the sports grounds fell into a hole. With a shift in the old limestone workings below, the place was swallowed, went the same way as the jobs. When the hole was filled years later they built a cinema, hotel, gym, bars, called the place Castle Gate. It looks like the rest of England. Or England looks like Dudley.

The newspaper says that Brexit threatens the new light railway set to run up the hill from the mainline, says the new Aldi will bring over thirty jobs. The town, like every place you look out on from this view, voted for Brexit, two to one for Leave across the West Midlands. Map the regions that made the difference and it follows the pattern of the death of industry, of coal, iron and steel.

The ground is always unsteady here. Take a step and an abyss can open up, a foot in one half of the country, a foot in the other half, the chasm widening below you. The cut, the canals, more relics of an old industrial order, were the things that linked the land-locked midlands to the sea, to far-flung London. There used to be a pub called The Sailor’s Return on the crest of the wave of Kates Hill, as if a ship might sail from the distant Indies right into Dudley Port, and the sailor swagger homeward up Bunn’s Lane.

That we lived on an old sea-bed in the middle of England was one of the many wonders of growing up here. At the Wren’s Nest there are trilobites buried in the rocks, creatures from that prehistoric ocean, a symbol of Dudley, hard and strange. The trilobite is there on the coat of arms, just above the salamander, who basks in flames below. We are a country of symbols, with our new Black Country flag – red, white and black – a link of chain emblazoned across it. Black Country Day is 14 July, the day the Cobb’s engine house started pumping water from the mines at Windmill End. The industrial revolution will be permanent.

Except just not here, any more. I remember the day I first thought I might become a novelist. Sitting on the 120 bus somewhere between the Langley Maltings and the Albright & Wilson chemical works, waiting to climb the hill, I thought I might write about this postage stamp of land, like Faulkner said, about defeat, about what it’s like to come down on the far side of something, about the past never really being past.

There is a whole shadow country beneath our feet. The canal tunnels pierce the hill and there are great caverns under the castle. There was a plan, early in the Second World War, to move the whole of the BSA munitions works here, to make an underground city of twelve thousand people and a few hundred thousand guns. It didn’t happen, but this is a country of outlandish plans. Lubetkin built the zoo in the thirties, white modernist pavilions set in old quarries. See the flamingos now from the top deck of the bus to West Bromwich. There is a hole in the hill where they used to dump the dead animals, a well of strange bones. The Richardson brothers, local Thatcherite property men, once planned the world’s tallest building at Merry Hill, the shopping centre they built by the old Round Oak steelworks, unstable ground indeed, where thousands of jobs fell into a hole and disappeared.

Wind down the lanes through Gornal, where the trees bend to each other above the road, to The Crooked House, another pub, a place made crazy with subsidence, where you can watch a marble roll uphill. This is a country of signs and wonders. And it is perhaps so unlike the country that is portrayed – if it is portrayed at all – in newspapers and on television screens and on radio stations that speak with an accent you do not hear on these hills, that you might struggle to picture it at all.

Which is where I should begin. This novel will be a story about magical thinking, a story about loss. The vote was a piece of magical thinking, a vote about loss. And it was many other things as well. Cast the zoo bones, read the runes on tunnel walls. If I must fall into this void then you will come too. There are countries where you have never been, though you have lived in them all your life.

‘It doesn’t matter what the question was, the answer was no,’ a friend says to me when we talk about the vote. And he goes on to tell me about someone he knows who killed himself not long ago, a couple of kids and no one saw it coming, and we talk about the people we know who have done similar. But try not to draw conclusions. There are people doing just fine. And it’s not like the place has a monopoly on the sense that the future lies somewhere in the past.

Watch the traffic flow along Birmingham Road past European roadside flowers. It was my uncle’s funeral a few weeks ago. Our family, living and dead, form a web across these hills. My brother, though he usually drinks Guinness, likes a cocktail at Frankie and Benny’s on Castle Gate, not far from where our great-grandad sat. They raise their glasses across the gulf of years. I have lived half my life here, half in London, felt the chasm between the places widen further and further. Out of the tunnel and into the light, down the hill and into the stream, along the river and into the sea.

And back again. We are all connected.

This is where to begin.

Anthony Cartwright is a novelist from Dudley. He is the author of four previous novels, most recently Iron Towns (2016). The Cut is the second novel in the Peirene Now! series, and was published on 23 June 2017.

 

The Impress Prize 2017, plus Q&A with past winner, James Calum Campbell

The Impress Prize for new writers was created to discover and publish new writing talent in fiction and non-fiction. The winner of the prize is offered a publishing contract with Impress Books, with the aim of releasing the book in the following year. Entries to the prize are assessed by the Impress team and a shortlist is produced from which a panel chooses the winner. The panel is comprised of representatives from the publishing industry. In the past the winners and shortlisted candidates have gone on to be represented by agents and received subsequent publishing contracts.

James Calum Campbell, author of The Seven Trials of Cameron-Strange, won the Impress Prize in 2014. Today I am delighted to welcome him to my blog to tell us about his transition from doctor to author, and the inspiration behind his protagonist, Dr Alastair Cameron-Strange.

Photography by Whyler Photos of Stirling

 

Tell us about your career as a doctor

I’m what the American MDs call “double-boarded”; I’m a GP and an emergency physician.  I’ve had the best possible time.  My career has taken me all over the world.  I guess its apogee has been the senior lectureship in emergency medicine at Auckland.  Wonderful – but a roller-coaster ride.  Medicine is very demanding.

How did you make the jump from doctor to author?

I was always a scribbler.  I used to write articles for various medical rags.  The profession likes to flaunt its literary credentials – Chekhov and Maugham and Conan Doyle and so on.  Actually we’re a bit smug.  There’s a style of writing on the back pages of medical journals that I call “medical baroque”, full of pus and sex.  I don’t care for it.  The worlds of medicine and letters do overlap – after all it’s all history-taking.  But most doctors who have seriously wanted to write have realised that they needed to quit practice.  Medicine is just too all-consuming.  When in Auckland I was asked to prepare the groundwork for the creation of a Chair in Emergency Medicine, I realised I might do that, and medicine would have me for ever.  I resigned and moved to a croft in Camustianavaig, Isle of Skye, and wrote a first draft of a book about Dr Alastair Cameron-Strange.  I was 47.  My colleagues thought I’d gone crazy.  Maybe they were right!

But medicine was not done with me.  My mother’s cousin was in a car crash on Skye, and I visited her in Broadford Hospital.  The Medical Director said, “You’re the doc holed up in Camustianavaig writing a book.  Do you want a job?”  Sometimes you do something simply because you are importuned.

What made you want to write?

I’ve been devoted to words, and stories, for as long as I can remember.  Then with adolescence I hit writer’s block and realised I needed to go out into the world and be something else, if only to acquire copy.  Every writer knows this fundamental truth, that you can be interested in anything and everything, but you can only be devoted to one thing.  I knew that sooner or later I’d be seduced back, to wrestle the best of three falls with words.

Was it always important to you for your novels to have a medical element?

Not initially, but, with fiction, eventually yes.  Medicine changes you.  I’ve been a doctor for such a long time now that I cannot but think as a doctor.  In emergency medicine, the most potent question you can ask your patient is, “What happened?”  Then you go into a trance, listen, don’t interrupt, and nine times out of ten, the patient will hand you the diagnosis on a plate.  It seems a passive activity, but it is not.  It comes at a cost, because what you are actually doing is stepping into the patient’s shoes.  For a moment, you become the patient.  Writing a book is a similar experience.  It requires a receptivity and a willingness to allow the book to proceed as it will.  It’s a diagnostic process.  It takes its toll.

Where did the inspiration for Cameron-Strange come from?

I wanted to write about a doctor who, though he doesn’t know it, has the full house of “knowledge, skills, and attitudes”.  There’s an old cliché that if you have knowledge, become a physician, if you have skill, become a surgeon, if you have tender loving kindness, become a GP.  (It’s nonsense.)    Most of us strive for competency on one level.  You sometimes meet doctors who combine such virtues.  For example you might meet an intensivist who combines encyclopaedic knowledge of pathophysiology with extraordinary motor abilities and nerves of steel.  But he’s also liable to lack people skills, he will have a monstrous ego, and he might even be psychopathic.  A doctor who excels in not one or two, but all three of these fields, is a very rare bird indeed.  I think Alastair Cameron-Strange might become such a doctor, but he still needs to work on his attitude.  If he survives, and isn’t struck off, I suspect when he’s a little older he might become very eminent in his field.

So believe me, ACS definitely isn’t me!  But I once received a backhanded compliment from an Edinburgh Professor of Medicine that would have befitted ACS:  “You’ll go far, Campbell, so long as you don’t go too far.”

 

Are you an unpublished writer? The ImpressPrize is now open for submissions. Deadline 30 June 2017. Follow @ImpressPrize on Twitter for updates.

Interview with Sanjida Kay #TheStolenChild

Today I am delighted to welcome back to my blog, Sanjida Kay, who is celebrating the publication of her second psychological thriller, The Stolen Child. You may read my review of this deliciously chilling story here. Sanjida kindly agreed to answer some questions which I put together as I read the book. I hope you find her answers as interesting as I did.

1. Publicity for books these days takes many forms. I enjoyed watching the book trailer (see below) and the interview you posted on YouTube about the inspirations for the book (also included below). I know that, amongst your many roles, you have worked in broadcasting. Was it your choice to use these media to promote your book?

Thank you so much for having me back to your blog, Jackie! I’m glad you liked them! I’ve spent years working as a TV director and presenter, so it’s fun to be able to use those skills, particularly in something as creative as a book trailer. Cameraman, Rob Franklin, shot one of my BBC documentaries, and contacted me recently to ask if we could work on a book-related project. Not only did he do an amazing job filming the trailer and the Q&A, he enlisted the help of a drone pilot, Jack Stevenson, who shot some incredible footage of Evie when she’s lost on the moor, wearing only her Frozen dress.

2. I love the jacket design for The Stolen Child and this is brought to life in your book trailer. Did you have any say in the picture used?

It was a shock when I had my first novel published at the age of 25, to discover that authors have NO say in their book covers. I’m so fortunate to be published by Corvus Books, though, as I’ve loved both the book jacket for Bone by Bone, my first thriller, as well as the second one for The Stolen Child. I think their design has perfectly captured the colour, the wildness and the desolation of the West Yorkshire moors.

3. The undercurrent of unease that pervades the story had me suspecting just about every character introduced. Did you know how each their roles would play out when you started writing them?

I had a brilliant brainstorming session with crime writer, Sarah Hilary, when I first came up with the idea for The Stolen Child. She suggested I make a number of characters sound suspicious and I’m glad I did. When I began writing, I knew who would be a suspect, and how, to a certain extent, but I hope I’ve managed to push that sense of distrust all the way through.

4. One of the themes in the book is trust and how fragile it is under pressure. With your imagination, do you ever catch yourself pondering the secrets your acquaintances may hold?

I suppose it’s no great surprise that my PhD was on Theory of Mind, which is essentially how we know what other people are thinking. Apparently, most of us can cope with up to six levels of ‘intentionality’, which could go something like this:

Does she know that I know that I think she’s wondering who else knows what she knows about what her sister believes is her half- sister’s secret?!

So, yes! Bone by Bone and The Stolen Child tap the commonly perceived threat in dark, lonely locations.

5. Has writing such disturbing stories affected the way you react to, for example, looking outside when alone in your house at night with your daughter, or walking in isolated locations?

Like many women, I will often choose not to walk home at night or to go for a run in isolated places because of the potential danger. I feel a lot safer in the countryside than I do in the city, though. But I don’t suppose watching seven seasons of The Walking Dead has helped my anxiety levels!

6. Your protagonist in The Stolen Child is an artist. Have you ever tried your hand at painting?

I took an A level in art, but I didn’t carry on painting for long after that. I’d love to have the time to return to it at some point. Luckily, I’m friends with a brilliant artist, Elaine Jones, and I grilled her on how she paints, as well as how she manages to juggle being an artist, with bringing up two small children.

7. And finally, you mentioned you brainstorming session with Sarah Hilary and thank her in the book’s acknowledgements. Does hanging out with other authors of dark, twisty thrillers affect the way you think?

Bristol is a brilliant place to live if you’re a novelist: it’s full of talented thriller writers, such as CL Taylor, Jane Shemilt and Gilly Macmillan – and Sarah is nearby, in Bath. It’s certainly refreshing to be able to meet up now and again and have an in-depth chat about writing with people who understand what you’re going through and can cheer you along the way. We’re all quite normal on the surface.

Thank you so much Sanjida, I love the hint of suspicion you have left us with there!

Now, doesn’t the book look fabulous?

The Stolen Child is published by Corvus Books and is available to buy now.

 

Mothers’ Day – Guest Post by Emma Curtis

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Today I am delighted to welcome Emma Curtis, author of suspense thriller One Little Mistake (which I review here), to my blog. Emma’s book explores the tricky balancing act that so many women live juggling friendship, marriage and motherhood – and the catastrophic consequences of a seemingly small mistake. She has written this guest post for Mothers’ Day.

On Mothers’ Day, we reflect on everything our mothers did for us and we give them a call, or take them a bunch of flowers, and thank them. This is the time to forget the fact that as teenagers, we said to ourselves, if I ever have children I will never do that! It’s the time to forget the parties we weren’t allowed to go to, to forgive the unreasonable bedtimes and irrational decisions that were never satisfactorily explained. When you have your own children you quickly realize that even if you do have a mental check list of the dreadful things your own mother did, there is a one hundred percent chance your kids will be able to come up with some humdingers of your doing. Mothers’ Day is a time to remember that mothers are human beings, and if they make mistakes it’s because they love us and worry for us and sometimes overreact.

One Little Mistake is a novel about an ordinary wife and mother who doesn’t always get it right. But none of this would have mattered and she would have muddled on, just like the rest of us, had it not been for one major lapse in judgement. When I wrote Vicky Seagrave, I drew on my own experiences of falling into motherhood four years before I had planned or wanted to. It caught me and my husband by surprise and we were unprepared for every aspect of it: the love, the fatigue, the mess, the restrictions, the adjustment in our own relationship.

Vicky’s ‘Mistake’ has a catastrophic effect on her life, the reverberations rippling through her marriage, her closest friendship, her job and her position in the community, putting at risk everything she holds dear. One Little Mistake is a psychological suspense novel, so what happens to Vicky and the danger she puts herself and her family in, is of course extreme. However, at the heart of it I wanted to show the confusing side of motherhood: feeling out of control; discovering that it’s not all perfect baby skin, talcum powder and fluffy white towels like in the ads, that it’s mess and tears, it’s unwashed hair and eyes bruised and baggy from lack of sleep. It’s dirty dishes piling up and piling on the pounds. It’s being two hours into a six-hour train journey to Edinburgh and realising you forgot the spare nappies – yes, that was me! It’s keeping things going on the surface and trying to ignore the muddle churning underneath.

But above all, it’s a mountain that we climb not so much because we have no choice, but through animal instinct and unconditional love. And in the end, you kiss your children as they leave the house on their own for the first time and you know that it’s OK. You can forgive yourself the mistakes you’ve made, because they make you proud. And then one day, you tell your twenty-five- year-old daughter, sitting on the sofa glued to her laptop, that you love her and she answers distractedly that she loves you too.

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One Little Mistake is published by Black Swan, an imprint of Transworld Books.