An Interview with Mirren Jones

Mirren Jones
‘Mirren Jones’ is a unique partnership of writers Marion Duffy (left) and Elaine Atkins (right).

Did your partnership form and grow through the collaboration as writers or did your published work evolve as a result of your friendship?

A bit of both! In 1999, we had co-authored two books of non-fiction, published by Radcliffe Medical Press (‘Facilitating Groups in Primary Care’, and ‘Facilitating Organisational Change in Primary Care’), while employed by The University of Dundee. That activity, along with several years of co-tutoring and joint research and consultancy, developed our working relationship and eventually led to our being friends as well as boss and junior!

Our fiction writing partnership – and ongoing friendship – is something newer and different, as we are no longer in a formal work situation. We’ve been writing and working together for 16 years in total and are still great friends, despite now living 500 miles apart.

Please tell us something about ‘Eight of Cups’?

front cover high resolutionThe novel is certainly not chic-lit, and is not intended to be literary; rather it fits the genre of well-written contemporary women’s fiction, although many male readers have told us they’ve enjoyed reading it and learnt a lot about women’s minds in the process! It’s a saga spanning over thirty years, beginning in 1972, as the six main characters arrive at Edinburgh as new undergraduates. After leaving university, their roads lead to England, Wales, Ireland, America and the Middle East; lives intertwine and paths cross.

The story is told from two perspectives. One, from the first-person narrative of the primary character, the rather too selfless (as becomes evident) Scottish lass Diane. The other, third person narrative interlocks all six characters in a brindled strand of narrative priorities. The women are all very different personalities: Nancy, the risk-taking country-loving girl from Yorkshire, Alix, the hedonist from Aberdeen, Carys, the studious one from the depths of West Wales, the quietly anxious Lesley, from Cardiff, and bossy, religious Patricia from Dundee.

The book explores the effects of the various attachments each character possesses on their lives: dreams, ambitions, pleasures, plans, obsessions and fears, and asks the question, “What will it take to set them free?”

Where or who did the inspiration and desire to write the novel come from initially?

Marion (Mirren) describes the impetus as being a combination of challenge and opportunity, with a significant event in her social life providing the seed for the story. She was moving to live part-time on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland when her husband took up a post there in the island dental services. He was concerned that she would be bored (does he really know her??) and challenged her to ‘write that novel you’ve been banging on about for years’. Co-incidentally, she attended a reunion of old university friends where one of her old pals divulged a shocking secret to the group. That set her thinking of how life affects plans and attitudes. On hearing of Mirren’s novel-writing plans, Jones was very keen to join in, making a strong case that if we were able to write non-fiction successfully then we ought to be able to do the same with fiction! So after discussion and negotiation, Mirren Jones was born and ‘Eight of Cups’ quickly began to take shape.

Do you split tasks when you approach producing a novel or do you write alternate chapters, swap them and then smooth out the writing style in redrafting?

 We work in a highly iterative way – creating, structuring, planning, revising, over and over again until we are happy with the product. Interestingly, we always sit down together and read through all the dialogue before signing off the final draft – this does give unique insights. In the end, the finished work is an amalgam of our ideas, plot lines, character development and physical writing (Mirren’s straight on to computer, and Jones on paper first), critiqued and then polished according to our own standards and preferences, as well as feedback from selected trusted reviewers.

You both have had careers dealing with people within the health sector. Do you think this experience has helped you to feel deeper empathy for the characters you create?

alyth town hall - CopyOur work in the NHS, in academia and as organisational development consultants has required us to be attentive listeners, adept at interpreting information from others via all our senses, able to feedback sensitively and imagine ourselves in others’ shoes. We have gained experience over many years of the effects of ill-health on people, and how life impacts on well-being. Hopefully our innate vein of empathy has been enhanced by our real-life experiences which then give us insight that we can apply to our characterisation. Perhaps being co-writers has an advantage over writing solo, in that with our combined life and work experiences we are able to bring a very wide range of knowledges and contexts to our writing, thus giving credibility to our characters and their settings.

How do you keep up the much needed energy and momentum for the projects you start when living so far apart and having such varied commitments and interests?

We put no pressure on each other in terms of deadlines and accept that life will get in the way, as it has done since we became Mirren Jones. We try to fulfil our promises to each other, and to ourselves as best we can, and both would love to have more time to write. Neither of us are the kind of writers who can squeeze in an hour before bedtime, or get up early and write before going to work. But what does help is if one progresses the story and reignites the flame for the next chapter to be written.

Please tell us something about your next novel, ‘Never Do Harm’.

It is a psychological drama about two doctors, friends since childhood, living in the same part of Scotland, but operating in very different settings. Alan is a GP in a busy medical practice, Hugh is a senior hospital consultant in a big teaching hospital. Professional in their working lives, they are rivals as well as friends in their personal life. Alan’s French wife Simone, a sculptress, is the third player in their relationship. Her presence will generate the potential for harm, something the two men promise never to do in their role as doctors, but which doesn’t of course apply outside of work. Our old NHS colleagues will be more than a little worried that we’ve used some real-life experiences to fuel our writing of this novel – and they may well be right!

What is next for Mirren Jones?

Finishing ‘Never Do Harm’ is our immediate aim – we are committed to reaching this goal before the end of the year. Then we have to navigate the world of Indie publishing which has changed considerably since we produced ‘Eight of Cups’, with the advent of digital books on multiple platforms, and embrace marketing with renewed enthusiasm!

As for the future – we have no problem generating ideas for stories, so when we decide to work on a third novel, it will probably progress much as this one has – in a stop-start fashion, with many twists and turns in both the writing and the lives of the writers. Given our personal experiences to date, we can anticipate unexpected changes which might throw up a range of other possibilities. In the meantime, Mirren continues in her role as Practice Manager in her local health centre, and Jones with her work as an Energy Psychology practitioner (humans and horses) / MD of CareandCompare.com – a charitable insurance price comparison website.

More from Mirren Jones

Website: www.mirrenjones.co.uk

Blog: www.mirrenjonesblog.com

Twitter: @MirrenJones

Facebook: Mirren Jones

Google+: +Mirren Jones

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/mirrenjones/

Kindle worldwide: http://authl.it/1qs

An Interview with Eileen Ramsay

Eileen RamsayThank you, Eileen, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to be my guest this month.

You have had a fantastic breadth of life experiences from teaching the children of international politicians and celebrities in the USA to working in Migrant Education. What lasting impressions did this contrast leave you with?
One fact that has remained with me through all my years of teaching is that, no matter the social position of the parents, the wealth or lack of it, education or lack of it, ALL good parents want the best for their children. Another is that poor parents – and I’m not talking finance here – come from every strata of society. I have had extremely wealthy parents leave seriously ill children in hospital while they jetted off to join some celebrity at a ski resort and I have had really poor Mexican parents turn up at my door begging for “Trabajo ahora?” whenever there was a school outing that cost a little money. They didn’t want a hand-out, they wanted to work to earn the money.

What is it about Mexico that appealed to you so much?

I visited Mexico often and studied Spanish language and Mexican music there. I love its fascinating and sometimes sad history. It is incredibly beautiful. The people are proud and they are generous and full of humour and you have just given me ideas for articles!

Would you agree with the observation that despite having lived with the lifestyle of the very privileged, you always seem to have kept your focus on what is important in life – family and reality?

You’re right, I did enjoy some incredible experiences and my upbringing was certainly not among the privileged but one wonderful woman in Washington DC reinforced all my early lessons. I had just met the man who was to become my husband and I wanted to impress him – shallow person that I am – with my ‘new’ family. I was taking him to lunch – to be introduced – and we walked into the house to see the lady of the house on her hands and knees washing a floor.  It turned out that the resident ‘cleaning lady’ wasn’t feeling well and had been sent to bed.

‘But why are you washing the floor?’ I asked.

She looked up at me and laughed. ‘Dirt,’ she said, ‘is no respecter of persons.’

My husband, of course, fell in love with her on the spot.

Churchills AngelsWhen did you break away from teaching to develop a career in writing?

Teaching and writing marched together for years. I wrote stories for Sunday School magazines and I wrote reading materials for primary schools. I was able to use knowledge of Native Americans I had gained while living in the US to write something a little different – Bud and the Hunkpapas was a favourite. For a few years I wrote from 4am to 6am but resigned when our younger son went to university.

Are you a very disciplined writer in the way you organise your day?
Organise?  I can already hear the laughter of those who know me.
I am disciplined. If possible I write every day; some days I write all day and well into the evening – that’s research time too. I use a laptop that has no internet because I can’t resist an email pinging in. My husband is learning to cook – our sons and lovely daughters-in-law sent him on a course – and he does one meal a day and he helps with housework – does all the heavy things and brings me a cup of coffee in bed first thing – and so I have 30 mins of ‘fun’ reading.

How and when did your first breakthrough as a published writer occur?
I went to a writing conference at USC where the great Michael Shaara, Clive Cussler, and the editor Charles Block were speakers. A friend typed up part of a Scottish Regency novel I’d been writing – I had even fewer technical skills then – and Charles Block read it. He was waiting outside a lecture room for me on the last day, handed me the script and said, “I think this will go but have chapters one and two change places.”

I had introduced the heroine in chapter two and he advised that the heroine should always be right there in chapter one. We returned to live in Britain that summer; I managed to get an agent – long story and sent her the finished, rewritten manuscript. A few days later she called and said she’d attended a party the evening before and an American editor had asked her about the availability of Scottish Regencies.  She showed her the typescript and it was bought! I looked at it a few years ago and it was rather dire – wouldn’t be published today. I rewrote it, correcting errors, and published it on Amazon!

You were established as a saga writer and then made the bold and successful move to writing romances based around the world of opera and music. What inspired this departure?

I had written children’s books, Regencies, Sagas and serials and I wanted to write contemporaries. I went to an artist chum’s exhibition and found myself thinking – What if all these paintings were of one person? The idea stayed and grew like Topsy and I wrote a book about an artist who loved a tenor – my favourite voice!  It was read by several reputable editors and agents but no one wanted it but almost everyone made sensible points. (I occasionally bump into one or two at an RNA party and we chat perfectly happily!)

            At a book launch I found myself standing beside a lovely woman who asked me if I wrote books like those of the superb writer onstage. I said “no” and told her my friend’s publisher had just, that very day, rejected me.

            “I didn’t reject you,’ said the woman and gave me her card. “Send it to me and I’ll have a look.’

            I dithered for days and eventually rang my friend, telling her I felt badly about, even inadvertently, using her launch to contact a very senior editor. She looked at me and said. “Don’t be stupid; if anyone holds out a hand to you in this business, grab it.”

            I grabbed, sent it and received the manuscript back with a “NO” for which she gave her reason. She also told me I really needed a good agent and suggested three. Two had already rejected me but I had not heard of the third and so I had one more go.

            The agent accepted me as a client, and, with her guidance, I rewrote a few scenes. The agent, the brilliant Theresa Chris, sent the manuscript to auction. It went for an amazing amount of money and was then bought by several foreign publishers.

Wave Me GoodbyeLast year, ‘Wave me Goodbye’ was published under the name of Ruby Jackson, which I understand is the first of a series of novels ‘Churchill’s Angels’.  Please tell us something about this new project?
I suppose, like many writers, after five best-selling books, I fell out of favour. Theresa stayed with me, encouraging me, advising me.  A few years ago, she asked if I would like to revisit WW11 and after much thought, I said yes. I did not know, of course, that  an editor at Harper Collins had conceived the idea of publishing a series of books about the courageous women who did everything from catching rats to ferrying Spitfires; the women she calls Churchill’s Angels.  Using the pseudonym, Ruby Jackson, I have now written four books; two have been published so far.  It’s been an enormous privilege. I’ve met land girls, pilots, nurses, etcetera and been awed by every one of them. Their stories need no exaggeration – they were quite simply – superb.

You obviously love historical fiction and research your chosen topic thoroughly. What advice would you give to anyone who was considering writing a historical novel?
Advice would depend on which era and which country but obviously I’d say, find out as much as you possibly can about the person the time and the place. Read everything, especially newspapers of the time, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Archivists and librarians are great sources and remember there are archivists in famous department stores, in grand hotels and in universities.  They know what you don’t know you don’t know!

What is next for Eileen?

I have no idea; my head is spinning – that way, or that way but I did visit a conductor friend at the Royal Opera House earlier this year. He has been keeping me accurate about conducting and conductors for several years as I have an idea. He asked me about progress.

‘I’m afraid, for the past four years, the poor man has been standing on a rock looking out to sea.’

He shrugged. ‘Well, there are worse places for a conductor to stand.’

Now, wouldn’t you want to discover the worse places?!

More from Eileen

Website: eileenramsay.co.uk
Blog: Eileen’s Blog

An Interview with Cindy Kirk

My guest this month is prolific American author Cindy Kirk. Cindy is a writer who loves romance and has written many special editions for Harlequin.

When did you first discover the joys of story-telling or writing your own stories down?

I’ve loved books and stories for as long as I could remember.  If I didn’t like a book’s ending, I’d make up my own.  The same held for movies or televisions shows.  For a long, long time I thought that everyone made up different endings.  I wrote my first “book” when I was thirteen.  It was a romance, of course, with a happy ending!  I let one of my teachers read it and I could tell she didn’t think it was very good.  It was a devastating blow to my young writer’s soul.

Which novels inspired you, or you would rate as your all time favourites?

LaVryle Spencer’s Bitter Sweet and Separate Beds; Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Dream a Little Dream and Nobody’s Baby But Mine; Lisa Kleypas’s Travis Series, Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton Series.

Could you share your journey to becoming a published author with us?

I wrote five books, it was the fifth that sold, 3 years after I started writing in pursuit of publication.  The book that sold won a contest.  The first prize was a critique of the entire manuscript by Harlequin editor, Patience Bloom.  She not only read it, she bought it.  And 15 years later, she’s still my editor!

What advice would you give to a new writer who has not made it into print yet?

To continue to hone your craft.  When I started writing, I began attending regional conferences for writers. Every year I attend the Romance Writers of America‘s National Conference and soak in all the wonderful information on how to write a better book.

Why romance?

I love a happy ending!  Not only in books but in movies.  I want to cheer for the hero or heroine, see them become stronger, learn life lessons, then be rewarded.

How did the ‘Jaunty Quills‘ develop?

I was writing also for Avon (Harper Collins) when a group of Avon authors decided to get together and start a blog.  At the time I was the only contemporary author.  The group has morphed over time to include authors from all different romance genres and publishers.  It’s been fun every step of the way.

What is the essence of a Cindy Kirk novel?

It’s a fun, enjoyable read with a dash of humor.

What is next for Cindy?

More books in my Jackson Hole series for Harlequin.  A return to Harper Collins with a novella that will release in December 2014.  And, who knows? That’s the beauty of writing.

More from Cindy

An Interview with Janet Gover

Janet Gover

My guest author this month is an experienced novelist, TV journalist, and short story writer, as well as an award-winning Australian author, Janet Gover. She has graciously taken time out of her busy, globe-trotting schedule to answer some of my questions and share her vast experience with us.
 
Welcome, Janet!

How did your childhood fuel your love of books, travel and adventure?

Hi Val – thanks for having me here on your blog.

I grew up in a tiny bush town in Queensland. There were only 18 buildings in Bowenville back then – I know this because I counted them. There was no-one else my age in the town, and my school was many miles away. I took a bus there each day – which meant I didn’t get to hang out with the other kids after school. Our nearest ‘big’ town was Toowoomba. It had movies and shops and things – but it was quite a drive to get there and we didn’t go often. I guess would have been lonely without my ponies and my books.

My Dad was a great reader and he taught me to love books as he did. It was such a great escape. I rode to the stars with Ray Bradbury, solved mysteries with Sherlock Holmes and fell in love with many a knight in shining armour.

Books were full of people and places that were such a long way from my tiny bush town. They fired my imagination. And the really great thing is – I have managed to visit some of those places I read about – although I have yet to go into space…

On January 10 2011 floods hit Brisbane and Toowoomba. Has Toowoomba changed greatly from the place you grew up in as a result of the devastation caused?

I was in Miami, Florida, working, when those floods hit. I woke up in the morning and turned on the TV news – and was shocked by the pictures I saw. It was so hard to understand how Toowoomba, a town on the top of a mountain could have a flood. I lived and worked in Brisbane as a young journalist, and that day in Miami I saw pictures of one of my favourite restaurants being washed away.

Floods are not uncommon in Australia – and people fight back. If you went there now, you wouldn’t know what had happened.

One of the things I am very proud of is my involvement with a book called 100 Stories For Queensland. I donated a short story to this project – as did many other writers. All the proceeds from sale of the book went to help flood victims. I was pleased to be able to help, even in such a small way.

You have written stories from an early age, but when did you make that initial breakthrough into print as a fiction writer?

I was a journalist for many years – working mostly in TV. I thought it would be easy to switch from writing fact to writing fiction – but I was very wrong. It was really hard.

I tried my hand at a novel when I was still working as a journalist – and it was really bad. Seriously bad! Some years later, I moved from being a journalist to a more managerial role – where I wasn’t writing daily news stories any more. Something inside me needs to write – and that’s when I seriously started to write fiction.  It took a while to change my style. My first efforts were rejected.

A holiday in Wales changed everything for me. I was very inspired by the places we visited – the fabulous scenery, the people and their history… the dragons.  I wrote a short story called The Last Dragon. It was my first published fiction (and I still love it).

I wrote short stories for a year or two – and each taught me something else about the art of writing. And every one that was published gave me a bit more confidence. My first novel, The Farmer Needs A Wife was published in 2009, and owes a lot to those short stories.

Janet, you travel widely with your work. Do you develop plots/characters for your novels as you journey, being inspired by new experiences?

I love people watching. Everywhere I go, I look and listen and learn. People are endlessly fascinating.

One thing I have learned in my travels is that whatever the cultural differences, deep down people all over the world want the same thing – they want to find someone to share their lives with. They want a home and a family. They want to give their children a good start in life. That’s why I write the sort of books I do.

I feel most comfortable writing about places I have been – I do like to properly capture the essence of a place. As I travel more, some of that is sneaking into my work. A boat cruise around the tip of Norway in mid-winter helped me to write Bring Me Sunshine. A trip to Iraq was the key to writing a troubled ex-serviceman as a hero. Living in New York has given me a heroine – we won’t meet her for two more books, but she is waiting there for me.

What places, of the many you have visited really stand out as memorable and why?

Wow – that’s a hard one. Very place has its own magic. Even though I write contemporary novels, I am a big history buff. I have visited the ruins of Carthage, of old Constantinople and Pompeii. I walked the Great Wall of China – I had a terrible cold at the time and pretty much collapsed at the end of the day, but loved it all the same. I love the ancient feel of places like this – and wonder a lot about the people who lived there.

The other thing I love is wild places – the central Australian desert, the Everglades. A frozen lake in Norway. The Rocky Mountains. Nature is beautiful and powerful…

And, I have to say – my favourite city in the world is London. I just love walking across Waterloo Bridge as the sun sets over the Thames. Beautiful!

What top tip would you give to new writers?

Be passionate about what you write. If you don’t love your story and your characters … no-one else is going to.

And respect your reader – never give them anything but the very best book you can write.

Flight to Coorah Creek, the first in a series based in the Australian outback is out in paperback this month. Could you tell us about this exiting new series?

Flight To Coorah Creek

I am loving writing about Coorah Creek. It’s a fictional town – in the far west of Queensland. Very close to the desert. In this series, I am trying to capture the feel of the small outback towns I have known all my life. These towns are a long way from the sort of amenities we are all used to. There are no shopping centres, or cinemas. Not much in the way of hospitals or schools either. Often, they hover on the brink of collapse. Coorah Creek is a mining town – if the mine was to close, the town would die.

People who live in these towns become very close to each other. They form very tight knit communities. The books are all romances – with new hero and heroine in each one. But the town and the people of the town appear in each book. It’s a chance to see the life the characters live when they move off the centre stage.

I hope to the readers, each new book will feel a little like coming home to a place you know well and to people you love.

By contrast Bring Me Sunshine was set in a much cooler environment. This was quite a change. Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

Bring Me Sunshine - small

Bring Me Sunshine is set in as wild a place as I could image – Antarctica. Well, on a cruise to Antarctica. The book was inspired by my sister-in-law – who went there with her mother… who at the time was well into her sixties. What a journey for a woman of her age!

I couldn’t afford to go there myself, but my sister-in-law helped with the research. I did take a cruise to the Arctic by way of research – which was a lot of fun.

I didn’t realise until after I had finished it – but this is the first (and so far only) book I have written that doesn’t have horses in it. There are, however, several million penguins – and who doesn’t like penguins?

It’s also the first (and so far only) book I have written with a wedding in it – which is a bit strange for a romance writer.

What is next for Janet?

I am almost finished writing the second Coorah Creek book – it has a lot of horses in it. And a fabulous hero who was inspired by a trip to Iraq.

There is a third Coorah Creek novel in the back of my head – a New York girl is just desperate to go and visit the town. But she’ll have to wait until I finish book two.

I am also planning another lighter novel – set on an archaeological dig…

And then there is this tropical island – where three sisters organise dream weddings…

And the story about the circus… (which will probably have horses in it too).

I’m not sure what order I’ll be writing these books in – one this is certain though – I am not about to run out of ideas…

More from Janet

Roses Are Dead

Roses Are Dead KECBuy and read now!

US Readers: Kindle / iTunes / Nook / Kobo

UK Readers: Kindle / iTunes / Nook / Kobo

Jen, a teacher, has broken away from a stifling relationship with Harris, who runs a gym. Naively, she tried to help him sort out his life, but did not realise that the man was a liar and a control freak until it was too late. Jen walked out on him determined to enjoy her independence once more when strange gifts begin to arrive. With Valentine’s Day approaching, the mystery of who is sending them disturbs her deeply. She fears it could be Harris. When they turn sinister Jen is frightened and does not know who should she trust: her ex, his friend, her neighbour, Sergeant Aidan Lee or just herself? When Jen needs help who will come?

An Interview with Peter Lovesey

DSC_2534Thank you for taking the time to discuss your fascinating career and share some of your experiences with us.

Your love of the English language shines through the quality of your work and the complexity of the plots you weave through your books. When did your love of storytelling begin?

I was a dreadful fibber as a child, so it must have been there from the start. I led a Walter Mitty existence, top of the class, popular, brilliant at games and with a girlfriend called Dahlia, the prettiest in school. None of it was true and Dahlia didn’t even exist. From there it was a smooth progression to making up stories for what was then called composition.

You also had a keen interest in sport which led to your first breakthrough as an author. Can you describe how this came about and if it is still one of your proudest moments?

At twelve I was taken to the post-war Olympic Games in London. There’s a lot of talk about legacy from the recent Olympics and for me the 1948 Games were a rich legacy indeed. I was hopeless at sport but desperately wanted to be a part of it, so I wrote about it, doing unpaid articles for small magazines. Out of it eventually came a book on distance running and then two years later, using distance running as a background, I entered a competition for a first crime novel. Wobble to Death won me £1000 and publication in England and America. A dream start to my career.

Stone Wife (2)From your initial breakthrough, how did you then go on to develop the successful series of Sergeant Cribb and Peter Diamond?

Cribb was the Victorian detective I created to clear up the mystery in that first novel and he went on to seven more, using Victorian entertainments such as boxing, the music hall, boating, spiritualism and Madame Tussaud’s as the backgrounds to whodunits. The eighth, called Waxwork, won the CWA Silver Dagger and was turned into a pilot for a TV series, made by Granada, starring Alan Dobie as Cribb.  Two series followed, based on the books and original scripts written together with my wife Jax.

The more recent series features a contemporary police detective called Peter Diamond, who is with Bath CID. The first book was going to be a one-off, called The Last Detective, and he resigned from the police. But it won the Anthony for best novel at the Toronto Bouchercon and I was asked to follow it up. So I contrived a story called The Summons in which the police needed him back and were forced to ask him to return and reinvestigate an old case. He’s been going ever since. The fourteenth, called The Stone Wife, is published this spring.

In which era do you prefer setting your novels – historical or contemporary, and why?

I wouldn’t say I have a preference. I enjoy the challenges of each. The Victorian period had a rich, rather daunting tradition to work in, thinking of Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Conan Doyle, and the task was to avoid a pale pastiche of those great writers. The research was enjoyable, mainly using the British Library newspaper library. Today, with the internet, it would be quicker and easier. Turning to the contemporary police novel was scary, too. I wasn’t sure how I would cope with modern policing and the huge advances in forensic science, so I made Diamond a bit of a dinosaur. I get a lot of pleasure from using little known historical anecdotes in these modern books. Examples are Jane Austen’s shoplifting Aunt Jane and Mary Shelley’s writing of Frankenstein in lodgings right next to Bath Abbey.

You have had work both televised and filmed. When this happens, do you become involved in the process and maintain control of what the producers can change?

I doubt if any producer allows the author control. They do take liberties and will tell you it’s necessary in visual terms. But I was lucky enough to attend read-throughs of the Cribb series and of Rosemary & Thyme, as the consultant. I was fortunate, too, that the adaptations of my books kept pretty faithfully to the plots – and that includes the movie Goldengirl and the TV drama Dead Gorgeous.

Do you write stand alone novels to have a break from the series, as a kind of refresher?

Yes, it’s fun to break out from time to time. I’ve written several from the point of view of the killer – and that’s very liberating. The False Inspector Dew won the Gold Dagger  and has been translated into more than twenty-five languages, but the one I’m proudest of is The Reaper, a black comedy about a rector called Otis Joy, who murders the bishop in chapter one.

Every writer has their own way of working. Do you plot in detail first and then set wordage targets, or do you let the story grow as it builds on the page?

When I started I would plan meticulously and write the synopsis before beginning Chapter One. I don’t write in drafts. The pages I write each day aren’t altered, except in minor ways, so it’s a slow process. If I tell you how few words I manage in a day you won’t believe me. It has to be right before I can move on. These days I carry much more of the plot in my head, but it’s basically all there. It’s not a method I would recommend to anyone.

I first met you when you did a local library talk, which was both interesting and inspiring. Do you intend to tour again in 2014?

If I’m asked, yes. I’ve done several recent US tours, visiting cities I wouldn’t ever have known otherwise. And it’s lovely to meet readers who enjoy the books. Plus, of course, the occasional writer such as you – and that’s a bonus.

Thanks, Peter! Of all the accolades and achievements you have received in your career to date, which one(s) stand out as something very special to you?

Difficult. The CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger in 2000 was a great honour, but couldn’t quite match the thrill of that first competition win with Wobble to Death. Another unforgettable moment came when I was Chair of the CWA and presented the Diamond Dagger to one of my early inspirations, Leslie Charteris, the creator of The Saint.

The Tooth TattooThe Tooth Tattoo also shows that you have a love and understanding of classical music. The humour within the book works on many levels, which balances the much darker twists of the plot. What inspired this book?

I can answer this with more certainty than any of your questions. A 2004 article in the arts section of the Guardian by David Waterman had this intriguing headline: HOW DO THE MEMBERS OF A STRING QUARTET PLAY TOGETHER AND TOUR TOGETHER YEAR IN, YEAR OUT, WITHOUT KILLING EACH OTHER? The piece stayed in my mind for eight years until I was ready for Peter Diamond to investigate. I’m glad to say The Tooth Tattoo was well received, not least by the writer of the article, who still plays with the Endellion quartet. And it’s just out as a February paperback.

What is next for Peter?

The fourteenth Diamond novel, The Stone Wife, will be in the shops in April and I’m halfway through the one I’m currently calling Diamond Fifteen. Thanks, Valerie, for this stimulating interview.

My sincerest thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. 

An Interview with Cindy A. Christiansen

Photo - Cindy A. Christiansen (1)

My first guest of 2014 is Cindy A Christiansen. To work as an author takes dedication and determination. Cindy appreciates this more than most as she has had to overcome life-changing illness to achieve her ambitions. She has kindly taken time out of her busy schedule to share her experiences with us.

How dramatic was the illness that caused you to change from your original profession to becoming an author?

It was devastating and confusing. I had no idea what was wrong with me. I got sick all the time and was missing way too much work. I kept falling asleep at my desk. I was a programmer/analyst and I soon found that I couldn’t follow the logic of a simple piece of code. I was sick for my bridal shower and during my honeymoon. I finally ended up in the ER with an enlarged liver and spleen, Mononucleosis and Epstein-Barr virus. The doctor said I had to make a life-changing decision about my future. He said I needed total bed rest.

However after a month of following his instructions, I was even worse. Despite seeking the help of thirteen different doctors, no one could tell me what was wrong with me. I finally had to quit my job. The illness continued to progress. Six or seven years later, I was finally diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, and Chronic Epstein-Barr virus. Since that time, I’ve been diagnosed with over thirty other health-related illnesses that affect me physically and cognitively.

 

What inspired you to turn around the situation into a positive step by entering the world of fiction?

Having been raised on a farm with a strong work ethic, staying in bed was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. My self-esteem and self-worth plummeted and depression set in. My husband was working and pursuing hobbies. I felt alone, isolated and down-right bored to death. I needed something else with which to think of in my life.

I got a yellow writing tablet and started writing. Articles and stories soon turned into a book. Sometimes I could barely move my hand across the paper, but I felt such a rush of accomplishment. Then I rescued and adopted a Wire-haired Fox Terrier puppy and my life began to change in the most positive ways.

 

Did your childhood fuel your imagination and love for animals – especially dogs?

Absolutely! After twelve books, I still haven’t run out of life experiences to use in my books. Growing up on a farm but within a city, I’ve experienced the best of both worlds. Living in Utah, I have enjoyed the most beautiful diverse landscape that has made the setting for every book unique without leaving the state.

I haven’t begun to share all the wonderful experiences I have had living on our farm and loving and working with dogs. Just to give you an idea of my imagination as a kid, I’ll share that our old hay wagon made a very nice stagecoach and our two-horse trailer made an excellent jail for all those desperate outlaws of the west. Our mixed-breed dog, Poncho, quickly became Lassie or Rin-Tin-Tin on a whim.

When did you first break into publication?

Publication didn’t come quickly. I began taking classes, joining writing groups, and doing tons of rewrites on the same book. Although doctors said I would never have children, I found myself in a high-risk pregnancy. Motherhood took everything I had, and when my son was eighteen months he was diagnosed with learning disabilities and special needs. Another child followed three years later, and he was also special needs. My writing was on hold until one day when I read Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand and found out she had one of the illnesses I had. It totally inspired me to seek publication, and I began writing again and submitting to publishers.

I published three books with a publisher but later pulled my rights and published with Sweet Cravings Publishing. I have seven full-length books published with them, not including the two additional books in A Merchant Street Mystery series that will follow. I also have independently published three novellas, one novelette, and a non-fiction book on writing.

When starting a new novel do you begin with the title, plot outline or character profiles? Or just a blank page and the first word?

I start with a plot idea and have a whole batch of worksheets I fill out before actually beginning to write.

Could you describe what experience a reader can expect from one of your books?

I want readers to know exactly what they are going to get from one of my books, especially since I write outside the box. As part of my marketing plan, I developed a list and post it in as many places as I can. Here it is:

  • A clean read with no bedroom scenes or offensive language.
  • A tantalizing, fast-paced plot.
  • A story without a lot of boring description.
  • Down-to-earth heroes and heroines with everyday jobs.
  • A rollercoaster ride of emotions you face right along with the characters.
  • A special dog to steal your heart.
  • A few added facts, a good message, and that important happily-ever-after ending.

German shorthaired pointer posing in the field

What is next for Cindy?

I am right in the middle of my first series. Time Will Tell: A Merchant Street Mystery Book 1 came out in September 2013 and Hunting for Happenstance, the second book in the series, will be released January 6, 2014. It’s been exciting but also a challenging task with my health issues, my two autistic children, and an ill dog.

Hunting for Happenstance is about high-spirited Daniela Estrada. She is tired of waiting for life and love to come to her in her poppa’s butcher shop. She wants to open her own doggie grooming business on Merchant Street and get practical Duston “Buck” Cooper, who owns the Bird Dog Gun Shop, to step out of his shell and ask her out.

Instead, while her Uncle Benito is deer hunting, he ends up missing and the area is swarming with aggressive black bears which holds up the search party. Duston and his dog, Ruger, have helped the police on other cases, and he is training a Karelian Bear dog. Will he help Daniela find her uncle?

Duston adores Daniela but secrets about his brother prevent him from getting close to anyone. He believes that if something is meant to be, it will just happen. Is Daniela’s missing uncle just the shot in the dark the two need to find love and happiness?

I already have plot ideas for other books and plan to continue writing and helping abused and abandoned dogs.

More by Cindy:

Sweet Cravings Publishing – Amazon – Barnes and Noble

An interview with Trisha Ashley

267398_163150827092202_2914025_nI am excited to welcome the lovely Trisha Ashley, an award-winning and best-selling author of humorous romantic fiction. 

How much have your entertaining novels been influenced by your own studies, hobbies and work experience?

There are elements of my interests and experiences woven in all of them, of course, but like most novelists I tend to use turning points and situations in my own life as jumping off points to explore new directions my characters can take – because after all, they’re not me and they would do things very differently.  They constantly surprise me.

      There is, of course, rather a lot about food in my books and all the research has taken its toll on my figure – but then, you have to suffer for your art.   I also love animals and gardens – especially roses – and often, too, my novels reveal the enduring power of good friendships and the supporting love of families, however dysfunctional they may at first appear.

      I’ve had a series of part time jobs over the years to support my writing and I think probably the seasonal work for the National Trust was the most useful.  For a few years I spent six days a week either in the draughty front hall of a large gloomy mansion, or in a little wooden hut at the entrance to the lovely Bodnant Garden in North Wales.  Now, those gardens were really inspiring and I was lucky enough to be there when a new young (and handsome) head gardener, Troy Scott Smith, had just taken over and was slowly revitalising it.  I think you can date my passions for roses, mazes and knot gardens to this time…

      But all of life’s experiences, good or bad, can be composted down and used to grow something fresh and new: nothing need be wasted.

When did the Muse enter your life? I hope he gets on with Dog.

I don’t think I can do better than to quote the update I put at the top of my quarterly newsletters for new subscribers:

      The plot so far: Except when she is occasionally let out to enjoy a couple of days of frenetic partying in London, or to give a talk, Trisha lives in beautiful North Wales, together with the neurotic Border Collie foisted onto her by her student son and an equally neurotic but also vain, bad-tempered and chancy Muse.  Muse, whose first name is Lucifer, slipped into her head and took up residence while she was reading Paradise Lost at school and refuses to leave.  He is male, steely-blue, wears a lot of leather, is winged, has talons (so that’s where her blue nail varnish went, then) and is devilishly handsome, if you like that kind of thing.  He only eats words, but gets through a lot of Leather Food and Trisha is starting to suspect that he does more with it than just rub it into his wings…

     Lately, Muse has been writing a hiss-and-tell account of his life with Trisha, called The Muse Report, though due to the fact that he eats his words almost as fast as he writes them, it could be quite some time before this appears in print.

      Muse takes little notice of Dog, except to eye the name tag on his collar when hungry…

Meeting your agent, Judith Murdoch, was a major turning point in your career.  What key advice would you offer to, as yet, unpublished authors?

There’s too much temptation now to rush out your first novel yourself as an e-book, so if you take that route I’d advise you to have your novel independently edited, and consider the constructive criticism you receive very carefully.  You want your novel to be perfect and whole, not some poor, half-formed creature, and with a first novel you aren’t going to spot what’s wrong with it yourself.

      If you’re lucky enough to be taken on by an agent or publisher, of course, they will tell you what’s wrong with it and being able to accept and work with constructive criticism is something you need to embrace if you’re taking writing seriously.

Are you a very planned and disciplined writer, plotting an outline in advance or do you start with a scene, character or situation and go from there?

I am character driven and, since I write in first person, must get to understand my heroine and her background first. Then I put her into a situation and see where she goes, and the book unrolls before me as I write like a magic carpet.  I don’t know where we’re going until we get there.

You have achieved success as a writer despite having macular degeneration. For those unfamiliar with the condition, would you  please share with us how you have worked around this?

 I have had myopic macular degeneration and very poor eyesight (minus 20) for many years, but the MD has been getting increasingly worse recently.  Macular degeneration means that blind patches increasingly appear on your retina and although I automatically focus around them, when tired that gets harder to do and my vision generally blurs.

      I have little night sight either, so tend to fall off kerbs etc and have been known to try and flag down any dark and vaguely taxi-shaped vehicle in London at night…

      There’s currently no treatment for my kind of MD and I’m supposed to take regular breaks from the computer screen…

      I am exploring new ways of writing at the moment in case I ever get to the point where I can’t see the screen at all, but this isn’t easy since I’ve been touch typing my books since I was fifteen and made the transition to word processors and then computers as soon as they appeared.

      At the moment, I write on screen in large print, but still have lots of room to increase the font size if necessary, so it’s okay.  I print everything out to work on.  But then, I’ve always needed to see my words on paper before they become real.

Please tell us about your new novel?

Wish Upon a Star jacketWish Upon a Star will be released on November 7th and has a Sticklepond setting, the village in West Lancashire where some of my other books are set.  It’s very much about following your star, wherever it may lead you and however hard the going gets.

    Single mum Cally’s life revolves around her little girl, Stella, who has serious health problems and when her condition suddenly worsens, they move in with her mother in the remote village of Sticklepond, while she tries to raise enough money to take Stella to America for a potentially life-saving operation.

      Cally only realises quite how tough it’s been shouldering everything alone when all the villagers – and especially laid-back and charming baker Jago – rally round to help.  All Cally wants for Christmas is a miracle to save Stella and with Jago’s help she may yet discover that all the best presents aren’t always found under the Christmas tree…

What is next for Trisha Ashley?

      I’m very happy to say that next year Avon will be doing a new edition of one of my long out of print novels, Every Woman for Herself.  I know you shouldn’t have favourites among your children, but I have to admit that this book is the closest to my heart.  It’s set in Yorkshire, where the Rhymer family, Emily, Charlotte, Anne and Branwell (the result of a failed attempt by their father to recreate the Bronte family situation) slowly return home, one by one to the haven of Upvale – only to find that things are about to change, forever.

      Every Woman for Herself was voted one of the three best romantic novels of the last fifty years in a reader poll, which was a truly wonderful moment, and I’m constantly being asked by readers where they can buy a copy, so I’m delighted it will soon be out again in paperback and e-book formats.  I’m adding a couple of new recipes to the end, too and it will also, of course, have a lovely new cover.

Thank you so much for having me on the blog, Valerie, and I wish everyone lots of very happy reading!

Good husband material high resMore by Trisha:

Another warm, wise and witty offering from Sunday Times bestseller Trisha Ashley.

James is everything Tish has ever wanted in a husband – she’s married a man who even her mother approves of. He’s handsome, dependable, and will make an excellent father – unlike Tish’s first love, the disreputable Fergal. Her teenage sweetheart abandoned her for a music career and now lives a typical celebrity lifestyle. Fergal broke her heart – James helped mend it.

Now, they’ve bought a cottage in the country. The next step – kids and a lifetime of domestic bliss. Well, that’s the plan. And even if James has a slight tendency to view the village pub as a second home, their relationship is still in pretty good shape after seven years of marriage. So why is marriage to Mr Right making her long for Mr Wrong?

An interview with Henriette Gyland

Author photo - HNS Conference 2012, v2 - cropped (1)I have the pleasure of welcoming novelist Henriette Gyland as my guest of the month. Her second novel, The Elephant Girl is due to be published on the 7th July 2013. 

I read in a recent interview that you have an ‘ideas box’. How and when did this begin?

I’ve had this box for years. I used to toss anything in there – newspaper clippings, notes from talks, overheard conversations etc. Even conversations I’d “heard” in my own head. I then discovered that I had real problems deciphering my own reasons for keeping a particular item and ended up throwing stuff away. Now I carefully date the note or clipping, and scribble my reasons in the margin, whether it’s a short story idea or an idea for a longer piece. I also bundle notes together if they relate to the same idea or theme. So there’s a certain method now to what used to be just madness!

How would you describe your work?

Some genres are easier to pin down than others, but mine is tricky because it straddles two of them – crime and romance. Romantic suspense or romance mystery explains it quite well, but I also add a hefty dose of difficult family or personal issues, social topics, political comment. The Elephant Girl is a very loose reworking of Cinderella, which is a fairy tale with a LOT of family stuff going on in it!

What has been your proudest or most memorable moment of your career to date?

There have been a few – being awarded the Katie Fforde Bursary, winning the New Talent Award at the Festival of Romance – but I think the absolute proudest moment to date was when my first novel Up Close was heralded as “Nora Roberts territory” by Sarah Broadhurst in The Bookseller. I’m a huge fan of Nora Roberts, so this was really the best kind of compliment.

I love the cover design of The Elephant Girl. What inspired the idea for this intriguing novel? Did it start by rummaging through your ideas box?

9781781890202

The idea is based on a real-life horrific murder, witnessed by the victim’s young child, and also the old maxim that elephants never forget anything, hence the title. The pendant on the cover is one the main character, Helen, inherits from her dead mother. This story didn’t come from the Ideas Box because I wrote it very shortly after the real crime had happened, and although in some ways I feel a bit strange about creating a story out of another person’s tragedy, I think as writers we just can’t help ourselves sometimes.

Is there one piece of advice that you were given as a new writer which you consider helped you to make the breakthrough as a writer?

When I met the lovely Katie Fforde, about ten years ago, she told me to “keep the faith”. And I she was right. Perseverance and the belief that one day you will get published is the only way to survive the numerous rejections leading up to it.

What do you choose to read to relax?

I’ve just finished Scarlet, the second in a series by Marissa Meyer and now have to wait until 2014 for the next one (sigh). I’m also hoping that C J Sansom will write another Tudor mystery novel in his Shardlake series, but in the meantime I’ve started reading Blackout by my favourite writer, the American sci-fi author Connie Willis. As always, I find every sentence of hers a genuine delight.

What is next for Henriette?

THD_front4 - shaded eyesMy next novel is a complete departure from anything I’ve written so far. It’s a swash-buckling historical tale set in the Georgian period, with highwaymen, a spirited heroine, and a mystery at its core. Well, mystery is my trademark, isn’t it?

My thanks for being my guest. I wish you every further success with your fascinating novels.

More by Henriette:

An interview with Christina Jones

A very warm welcome to this month’s award-winning author, Christina Jones.

Katie Fforde described An Enormously English Monsoon Wedding as “warm, witty and wonderful”. I love the title of this book.  What inspired this novel?

My editor suggested that I should write a summery/weddingy/villagey book as the first in a new series of village-based stories. It threw me a bit to start with, as most of the weddingy themes have been covered a zillion times – but as my daughter recently had a fusion wedding (hers went wonderfully smoothly, I must add – nothing like poor Erin’s!) so I’d learnt a lot about marrying together two totally different religions and styles of wedding ceremony. I knew I had to use the experience – so An Enormously English Monsoon Wedding is the happy result!

What do you consider is at the heart of your novels that makes them so appealing?

Probably their ordinariness (is that a word??). I write about normal people doing normal jobs, nothing and no-one high-powered or high-flying. I also include all ages, genders, and all other diversities. Something for everyone – like real life. They live in small rural communities, everyone knows everyone else, and I suppose it’s all a bit cosy. My whole aim with my books is to create warmth, security, happiness, a few laughs, escapism, and hopefully a massive dollop of feel-good factor. Like everyone else, my real life has had enough sadness – I was determined there’d never be any sadness in my books!

I love the way you create your own villages and the communities that interlink. What was the inspiration for your characters, their world and the stories which they have inspired?

The village where I grew up. No question. It was a very close, rural, working class community, and gave me a fabulously grounded and secure start in life. My friends from back then are still my friends now and we all share the happy memories and the luxury of a perfect childhood. Now I live somewhere very similar, and I watch people and listen to them talking in the corner shop and the pub and just pinch bits here and there! Again, it’s all very safe and cosy – not too twee, I hope – but sort of real and the kind of world that everyone can recognise.

I read in an interview that your cats share your workspace as they do your home. How did you first come to rescue them?

I grew up with animal-loving parents who took in waifs and strays. We had dogs that were going to be shot or drowned before my dad stepped in; cats that had eyes/legs/tails etc missing; ferrets, rabbits and hens that wandered in and out of the kitchen; and ducks that were destined for the dinner table before my mum did a midnight raid on their pen! Nothing was ever turned away. I sort of gravitated towards cats when I first had my own home – via our local vet who had a litter of dumped motherless kittens – and it grew from there. My cats have come from vets, from Cats Protection (the ones no-one wants – too old/scared/injured – oh, and feral in some cases!), word of mouth, and just strays who have turned up and moved in (cats seem to know when there’s a cushy billet!). When I met my husband, he also had rescue cats, so by the time we married and merged our broods we had 11. We’ve never looked back!

What fictional hero/heroine has inspired or impressed you as a reader?

Probably an unpopular choice – but Scarlet O’Hara and Rhett Butler. Manly because Gone With The Wind is one of my all-time favourite books and also because they were both real people, with flaws and not very nice sides to their characters but I understood their dreams, desires and motivations. They simply walked off the page for me and despite them not really having a Happy Ever After; no other fictional romantic couple can hold a candle to them in my opinion.

You are an award winning author, but what do you consider the highlight of your career to date since you became published in 1997?

There have been a lot of highlights (and some lowlights as well!) and over the years I’ve won awards, been to some amazing places, met some very famous people, done telly and radio programmes, and had more fun than I surely deserved, but I suppose it was that first publishing deal for Going The Distance. Seeing my first book in print, on bookshelves, being chosen for WH Smith’s Fresh Talent… honestly, a dream come true – and a feeling that will never, ever be forgotten or recreated.

You are a writer that many new writers aspire to and respect. What would be your three top tips for anyone wanting to succeed in the industry today?

  1. There honestly are no rules to creating a fictional world – so don’t over-do the “I must study all the manuals/latest info etc” because it’ll only confuse and worry you. Write what’s in your heart – write the story you alone want to write, not what you think you should be writing because it’s trendy or current – write for yourself. If you love your story and your characters it’ll show on the page and everyone else will fall in love with it/them too.
  2. Don’t feel you have to write every day. Write the way that suits you. Some people write 10,000 words a day, others write 500. Some (like me) know that if the words aren’t there then it’s best to forget writing until they are and go and scrub the kitchen floor or go for a walk or chat with friends or read or watch telly, whatever – be yourself and do what’s right for you. Just don’t feel pressurised to be like everyone else.
  3. Don’t overwrite – don’t keep going back and rewriting. You can write the life out of your story by constant tweaking. Usually those first bubbling, brilliant ideas that just pour out on to the page are the best ones!

What is next for Christina Jones?

I’m just writing the next novel in the new series – That Red-Hot, Rock’n’Roll Summer – which is about a summer fete that, thanks to Tiggy, who works in the local American Diner, and Marilyn Monoroe look-alike, Cordelia, somehow morphs into a mini-Glasto in the village of Daisybank, much to the horror of the very stuffy and traditional fete committee. And of course nothing goes exactly to plan (understatement!), and Tiggy and Cordelia find lots of love and laughter along the way…. I have ideas and notes for the next two after that as well!

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to take part in the interview.

Thank you so much for asking me. It’s been an absolute pleasure to be included here. I’ve loved it! Thank you!!!

More by Christina: