Monday, 31 March 2014

The Writing Process

I was asked to take part in The Writing Process Blog Tour by Barbara Scott-Emmett, a talented novelist whose latest work, DELIRIUM: The Rimbaud Delusion, will be published through Triskele Books later this year.

The idea of the tour is that all the writers who take part answer the same four questions about their work and their writing process, and together they form a great electronic blogging chain in the ether! You can read Barbara’s blog (and find out more about her writing) here. I have asked Trish Nicholson, Nik Morton and Joan Fallon to grab the baton from me – read more about them at the end of this post.

What am I working on?
I’m currently splitting my time (and sanity) between two, no three, maybe four, major projects.

Let me explain: as Lorraine Mace, my debut novel for children, Vlad the Inhaler, is due for release this week. The publishers are very keen to see the next in the trilogy, so I am working flat out on getting that to them by the end of March.

I am also working on a new children’s series: sort of Randall and Hopkirk (deceased) meets Buffy (without the vampires). This will feature a young boy who gets saddled with a ghost who bullies him. Together they have to fight off all the dreadful supernatural entities I can think up and save the world at the same time.

As Frances di Plino, my D.I. Paolo Storey crime series seems to have found a strong fan base and the publishers have asked for the fourth Paolo book. Looking for a Reason will carry forward the lives of the main characters, but as with each of the first three books, the crime being investigated is completely different to anything in the earlier novels.

And then, returning to my Lorraine Mace persona (the real me) I have a literary novel that has been on the back burner for so long it’s a wonder it hasn’t shrivelled up and died. One day, I keep promising myself, one day I'll write The End on that book.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Wow, what a difficult question!

The crime series is different to many in the genre because it is character led, rather than plot driven. In most crime novels, the plot is the be all and end all of the writing. I like my characters to develop over a series, so that what happens in their private lives affects the way they interact with each other and also impacts on the crime solving aspects of each case.

With my children’s novels, I wanted to concentrate on issues that matter to children: bullying, being different, having to cope with the fallout from adult’s actions. At the same time, I wanted to create characters who readers will care about, but who are themselves different and so don’t ‘fit’ into mainstream lives. From the initial feedback I’ve received on Vlad, it seems I’ve achieved that.

Why do I write what I do?
Quick answer: because the damn voices in my head keep nagging me to tell their stories.

Longer answer: because each book reflects issues I care about and want to bring to the attention of my readers. Novels are meant to be entertaining, and I hope mine are, but that doesn’t mean they have to be light and fluffy.

In all my works of fiction I deal with the unpleasant issues so many of us have to face on a daily basis. I try to portray those issues in a way that will make people think about the lives of others, even if only for the time it takes to read the book.

How does my writing process work?
It starts with my husband writing a day by day programme for me each month. My day job consists of running my private critique business, working as a mentor to novelists, managing three international writing competitions, running writers’ workshops, my regular columns for magazines, being a short story judge and critique provider for Writers’ Forum and various other writer-related activities that seem to take up a great deal of time.

I dump all this information on my long-suffering husband and he then plans my month so that everything gets done when it should – and somehow rearranges the universe so that I have time to write my novels.

Because I have so many other activities, I have to be really disciplined when ‘creative writing’ appears on programme. I set myself a word target for those days and will not leave the computer until I’ve reached my goal.

I tend to work to a rough outline, so that I know before I even open the file exactly what needs to be covered in the chapters and scenes for the day.

Before I became so busy (in fact, before I was published) I used to write when the muse deigned to visit. I no longer have the luxury of waiting for her to arrive. I now have to reach out and grab the muse by the throat and make her sit next to me during the hours allocated to my novels. I keep her tethered to my office chair, just in case she tries to sneak off.

It seems to be working!

As promised at the start of this post, here are the three baton carriers for the next stage of The Writing Process Blog Tour.

Dr Trish Nicholson (@TrishaNicholson) began her thirty-year writing career as a columnist, feature writer and author. She writes short stories and narrative non-fiction, and is currently published by Collca (UK). Among her recent titles are: Inside Stories for Writes and Readers, a companion on creative writing, and Writing Your Nonfiction Book: the complete guide to becoming an author.

Nik served in the Royal Navy. He now lives in Spain. He has sold many short stories and edited several books and magazines. His book Write a Western in 30 Days has been a bestseller. This year sees publication of Wings of the Overlord, a fantasy quest jointly written with Gordon Faulkner, The Magnificent Mendozas, his sixth western for Robert Hale, Sudden Vengeance and Catalyst, both crime thrillers from Crooked Cat.

Joan Fallon was born in Scotland, but grew up in England. For many years she was a teacher and later a management consultant specialising in Behavioural Studies.  In 1998 she moved to Spain, where she began to write.  Her novels centre on a strong female character and explore the emotions and relationships of the protagonist.  Being a History graduate, Joan enjoys setting her novels in a historical context, researching either English or Spanish history.

Trish, Nik and Joan will answer the same four questions next week (7 April 2014). Do visit their blogs to discover more about the writing life and the process of creativity.

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Friday, 28 March 2014

Getting to know ... Adelaide Godwin

Today we have a guest post from Adelaide Godwin, whose delightful novel for young readers, Landing On My Feet: The Adventures of Poohka the Cat, will be released on Monday 31st March. Poohka is a wild pussycat in a plush Spanish town. Life is good and the going is easy. Then one day he's swept up by a rubbish truck, crushed and dumped many miles from home. Now his life hangs in the balance. Landing On My Feet: The Adventures of Poohka the Cat is a remarkable tale of feline bravery and endurance, an epic adventure that will delight early readers everywhere.

What genre would you say your novels fall into, or do they defy classification?
Children's Fact/Fantasy 8 to 12 year olds.

What made you choose that genre?
I think it chose me!  As a first time writer with absolutely no writing experience, you will understand more when you read my author's biography.

How long does it take you to write a book?
It took me 6 months to write the story, but 18 months to do the paintings that led to the story.  So 2 years from start to finish.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
For the first it was fairly erratic.  I will be having a strict routine with my second book.

Where do you get your ideas for your books?
From the animals I know.  I look after the feral cats here on our urbanisation, I learn a lot from them.

When did you write your first book and how old were you?
This is my first book - I am just coming up for 59! Hopefully one is never too old or too late!

What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I enjoy painting, the art world, padel tennis, animals, travelling, life on the Costa del Sol.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
The last line of the book was the first sentence I wrote and the rest just kept flowing.  I was also surprised how much I enjoyed writing.

How many books have you written?

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
Anthropologist or a Fashion Designer

What are you working on now?
My second book: Landing on my feet, the adventures of Lolo the cat.

Adelaide Godwin was educated at an Ursuline convent in a remote Belgian village before attending Winkfield Place Finishing School, famous as Constance Spry’s school. There she achieved a Cordon Bleu Diploma and went on to work for Prue Leith in London and as chef at the Little London Restaurant in Chichester. Adelaide has also worked in the television and film industry doing small acting roles, as well as some photographic and voiceover work. She now divides her time between the UK and southern Spain where she cares for animals, writes, paints and enjoys the Mediterranean sunshine.

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Thursday, 20 March 2014

In Praise of Rails by David Urion

In Praise of Rails was sparked off by a poetry competition organised by the National Railway Museum in 2011. I submitted a poem called Sleek Beast That´s Sir Nigel Gresley, and although it didn´t win I wasn´t in the least bit disappointed as the actual winners fully deserved their prizes. In the process of researching material for that particular poem, I found that memories about this iconic locomotive came flooding back as one of my best friends in Yorkshire has an amazing print of it steaming at full tilt and I am always mesmerised by its brutal beauty. This rekindled my interest in trains and since then untold hours have been spent visiting numerous heritage railways and museums taking photos, researching, learning technical jargon, visiting some of the mentioned lines to hit my target of fifty poems … what an enjoyable way to ponder, relax, write and regain a passion for trains.
Where did this love for all things trains start? Somehow, lovely memories of engines have always been there somewhere in the subconscious. I can still vaguely recall standing lineside when I was in primary school watching laden coal trucks trundle past being hauled by a filthy tank engine from Ifton Heath coal mine before it closed. 

This engine may, or may not, have been a shunter called Hornet. More vividly, I remember being sent on obligatory cross-country runs in all weathers from secondary school along the now disused and trackless Ifton Pit to Weston Rhyn sidings line. We slid down the steep embankments, bare legs getting bramble-ripped to pieces then ran through the muddy woods and icy streams before the uphill trek back again to school. We also used to walk along this same line in the opposite direction at a weekend and watch the annual Dragon Rally Hell´s Angel hordes on BSAs, Triumphs and Nortons pass underneath the long-gone iron bridge over the A5 as they revved en-masse to the north Wales coast. 

Of course, like most of my peers I had Hornby and Tri-ang sets as a teen. We didn´t realise their future worth at the time, we just played with them until they were wrecked and thrown out. Once I´d left school I got a job as an apprentice draughtsman at Hathaway fire engine pump manufacturers in Gobowen, Shropshire and many hours were spent doodling and daydreaming out of the window as the trucks arrived from the ARC Stone quarry in Llynclys and were shunted by a little diesel, then got hauled away by a rumbling Deltic-type bigger loco on the main Chester to Wolverhampton line. 

At seventeen, four of us school friends went camping alone for the first time at Towyn and the thunderous rumble of engines, that also looked like Deltics to my untrained eyes, shook the flimsy tent harder than our headmaster had ever shaken us for being regularly naughty as they hauled boat trains up to Holyhead. A couple of years later I travelled alone to catch a boat train to Weymouth so I could visit a girlfriend in Guernsey. 

When I watched the YouTube clips recently it brought back heavenly memories of hanging out of the push-down windows as the train squeezed its way along the quay. As an adult, I´ve been underground at Llechwedd slate mines, got spooked on the Halloween train at Elsecar, been astounded by the sights in the National Railway Museum at York, taken groups of Spanish teenagers for their first-ever experience of steam at Bowness and Kinneil on the Scottish coast, witnessed Thomas the Tank replicas turn kids and adults hysterical as it arrived at Llangollen or Elsecar, even walked parts of the disused Woodhead line in South Yorkshire with my dog. 

However, not all train trips were good; I´ve been terrified as a decrepit football special was bricked to pieces in a cutting at Leeds, and often went from Wales on Saturdays to watch Man Utd, getting off at grubby Oxford Road or Manchester Victoria. Once I took the lazy route up Snowdon and got blasted by the icy winds and sudden hailstone early summer shower as the carriage was pushed up to its peak. 

Looking back now at the pleasure trains have brought throughout my lifetime, I realise how lucky I am to have had so many sporadic opportunities to experience different aspects of Britain´s unique railway heritage and hope that I´ve produced poems that will inspire and encourage people to ride on the mentioned trains and lines, explore the museums and all the great things there are to be found around railways. 

Each of the fifty poems can be analysed and dissected if readers particularly want to, sometimes just a name hides so much detail and interesting information, and to this end there are pages of explanatory notes at the end of the book which will hopefully aid those seeking answers to some of the more obscure references. Once I decided to limit the scope of this collection to the UK only I spent innumerable, enjoyable hours venturing into half-unknown waters to gather railway-specific vocabulary, read numerous books, researched historical facts and design details, found anecdotes about people, places, events, engines, checked out YouTube and Flickr for photos or videos of railway activity and watched Great British Railway Journeys until my eyes went square.

I would like to thank Margaret Rowland, Kathy Rollinson, Douglas Hill, John Edwards and Iarla Mongey from Stanza Mar Menor in Spain, plus Lorraine Mace from The Writer´s Bureau. I owe them all a huge debt for keeping me on track because without their advice and constructive support (or helpful nagging!) I doubt I would have ever crossed the finishing line with this mammoth poetry writing project that took almost three years to complete. I would also like to thank John Wardle for his excellent front and back cover sketches. Matching poetic style and rhythm turning jumbled thoughts into finished verse relating to particular trains was difficult at times and if I have made any mistakes, then I wholeheartedly apologise to any nerdy people who pick them up and can only offer this in my defence – If you can do better, do it. If not, get a life!

David Leslie Urion

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Saturday, 15 March 2014

Inspired by the Past

Today we have a wonderful guest post from Jeff Gardiner, who tells us how he came to write his latest novel.

My new novel, IGBOLAND, is a tale of passion and conflict set in Nigeria during the Biafran War. I was born out in Nigeria in Jos, and even though I haven’t had a chance to go back and visit my country of birth, I still consider Nigeria my spiritual home.

The stories and photographs of my parents, who lived out there for six years, inspired the novel. My Mum’s diary was an essential resource for context, background and interesting details. I’ve made it very clear in my introduction that the novel’s protagonists, Lydia and Clem are NOT my parents. 

My parents lived in Idoma, not Igboland, and neither of my made up characters reflect the personalities of my wonderful parents. The basic premise comes from the idea of a young couple whose first home together is in a bush village in West Africa, but any other similarity ends there. There are some episodes clearly inspired by their anecdotes and particularly by my Mum’s diary, but each event or occurrence is changed to create a different dynamic or made to become far more dramatic than the reality. My characters respond to those events very differently.

With my Mum’s generous permission, I can now reveal – for the first time – excerpts from her journal, to give you a taste of some of the inspiration behind IGBOLAND. These are some of Mum’s early responses to living in a strange new country, and moving into a house that hadn’t been lived in for months.

Excerpts from the diary of Janet Gardiner (1964 -70)
“The people are very friendly and smiling – the custom is to ask about your family greeting you. We saw a dancing display to rhythms made by drums and instruments – dressing up with head dresses and masks, with some on stilts.”

“I’m finding it hard to get used to being continually hot and sticky, damp with perspiration ... We are having to get used to sweating all the time with any physical effort. It’s an effort to walk any distance, especially in the afternoon. It’s even an effort just to bend down. Insects are all over the walls. We have seen a praying mantis, there are lizards and geckoes, which eat insects and moths, and all sorts of flying insects around the lamps in the evenings.”

 “Our house is made of plastered blocks, and the roof is corrugated aluminium. The inside is a frightful mess! Dust, damage to soft furnishings, back bedroom ceiling down – sitting room floor needs re-cementing. Scorpions nests and lizard eggs are scattered liberally around … We are alone in our bungalow, the only white people for 9 miles … We have a small bathroom with a bath, but of course no running water. The hand basin drainage is through a bicycle inner tube out through a hole in the base of the wall into a drainage pit. No shower but we can hoist a bucket with holes in the base if we desperately want a shower. Baths consist of a large bowl of water heated up on the wood stove with cold added – and shared.”

“I’m finding that people have started coming to the manse asking for medical help – I feel very unsure about this as I’m not trained, but have decided to just do what I can. I do have access to simple medicines, which they do not, after all. The nearest national authority clinic is about 10 miles away.”

“Villages are motley collections of huts and often miles from anywhere out in the bush. All roads here are unmade and after heavy rain get flooded and very muddy. Bridges over streams and rivers are often very rickety and made of branches lashed together – scary to cross, especially if you have to carry your own bike, but the locals are quick to help carry your loads however heavy and nip across any bridge as if it were the widest and firmest bridge in existence.”

When the Biafran War broke out in July 1967, my parents were living in Oturkpo and had a one-year-old boy (my brother) to look after. The country was in turmoil after a number of military coups and counter-coups. But that is another story … 

For further updates follow my blog tour and ‘like’ my Igboland Facebook page:!/pages/Igboland/595879100465696
Jeff’s website:

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