Love a mystery?

If you want to take a few hours out to relax and lose yourself in a mystery, then why not meet Nicholas Penn in Dead to Sin – A Penn Mystery Book 1?


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Dead to Sin

Nicholas Penn is summoned to Gorebeck Gaol to visit a man accused of murder. Having been found holding the body of the last victim in his arms, his plight seems sealed. Nicholas is torn between a sense of duty and his feelings of hurt and disgust when being in the presence of the accused. The tables turn abruptly, and Nicholas becomes the incarcerated. Duped and incensed, he swears to find the man, Wilson, before another victim dies.

Pantomimes & Fairy Tales

Christmas would not be Christmas in the UK without the onset of the pantomime season.  Theaters up and down the land give way to the colourful, family, slap-stick humour of the pantomime. Celebrities appear in the most surprising roles to join in the seasonal fun. One of the most popular titles is the adaptation of the beloved fairy-tale Cinderella.

Poor Cinderella is a persecuted heroine. She has lost her own mother and father and is left in the ‘care’ of her step-mother and her daughters – the ugly sisters.

The origins of Cinderella can be traced back through different cultures at various times in history from: Greek mythology, Chinese fable, seventeenth century France in Perrault’s verison in 1697 and the Brothers Grimm’s Ashenputtel to name but a few.

It is a universal theme. Beauty is more than skin deep and so is ugliness. Cinderella’s rescuer can be magical, human, a tree – or in my version on this Cinderella theme, a combination of faith, hope and love in human form who seeks justice for my poor Ellie. Of course, the greatest of these is love 🙂

An Interview with Liesel Schwarz

LieselI am delighted to welcome Liesel Schwarz, Queen of Gothic Steampunk to my blog this month. I first came across Liesel’s work when I read her debut novel ‘A Conspiracy of Alchemists’, which is an action packed adventure described as “Combining the best elements of Gothic fiction with contemporary Steampunk”. It was chosen by Random House to launch their SFF imprint (Science Fiction and Fantasy) Del Rey in the UK.

Welcome, Liesel, and thank you for taking the time out to answer my questions.

To me the combination of history, invention, science, fantasy, romance and thrilling adventure is a magical blend – literally too, as it reveals a deadly game between Alchemists and Warlocks as the creatures of light and dark walk among us.

Hi. Thank you for inviting me!

How do you describe Gothic Steampunk?

That’s a question that requires a rather long and convoluted answer. I think steampunk, in broad terms, is the fascination with Victorian optimism. It concerns itself with technology and progress. The Victorians had this obsession with making the world a better place, by “civilising” it. We know today that much of what they did was deeply misguided, but I think their hearts were in the right place. Steampunk takes its cue from those intentions. Gothic romanticism is more about Victorian disillusionment. It is the 19th century’s nostalgia for the romantic ideals that originated in the Dark Ages. I’ve always been a fan of the 19th century Gothic literature and I love steampunk and so I thought it would be cool to create a world that was bright and technologically progressive on the one side while dark and organic on the other. Two sides of the same coin, but in direct opposition with the other. This is how Elle’s world came into being and so I suppose in a way this is why they described the books as Gothic Steampunk.

That’s a great description which captures the complex essence of the genre. When I read your first novel what struck me most was the energy and enthusiasm that came through the words on the page. Have you always been a natural story-teller?

I’m not so sure about the story telling part, but I do know that I have however always been a natural story maker-upper. Telling the stories you create in your head is, I think a natural progression in this case.

Where did your writing journey begin?

When I could hold a crayon. It took a few detours, and I decided to start writing more seriously after I left university but I think writers tend to be born that way. It is again a natural consequence of story maker-uppers.

How long did it take you to become a published author?

A few weeks! No, I’m serious. I was incredibly lucky. I met my agent, he sent my book out to market and I literally had a book deal a few weeks later. Before I met my agent, I did however spend years and years honing my craft. This involved writing stories, polishing them, having them rejected and then starting all over again. I also studied the craft of writing quite intensely. I have an MA in Creative Writing and I am also busy with my PhD on the subject.

Will you ever forget the moment when you were told yours would be the debut novel of Del Rey?

I think I was more excited by the mere fact that my book was going to be published, to be honest. The fact that it would be the debut for a new imprint only really registered with me a bit later. It’s great when you have a good relationship with your editor and publishers and again, I am extremely lucky in this respect.

There are many aspects to your novels. The research of actual inventions must be meticulous – but you have also blended in your own to make the fiction appear real and the impossible plausible. Have you always been drawn to this age of invention?

Yes. I think it started when I was very young. I remember watching films like Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and I found the sheer eccentricity of it all irresistible. This fascination grew as I started reading and it’s been with me ever since.

Do you have great fun spending many hours inventing your own machines on the page?

Actually, many of the machines I use in the books were actual patents filed in the British Library. I think the Victorians were far better at inventing fantastical machines than I could ever be. I think the reason for this is because there was an element of naivety about their inventions. Today, with all the marvels we have at our fingertips, we are a little jaded. Although, I suppose that in a hundred years from now, people will look at us and think, “Oh, how quaint!”

Elle Chance and Mr Marsh are strong characters who continue to develop. Do you have plans for the series to continue over many novels?

I think all characters must develop within a narrative. You can’t really have a story without that and so yes, I have further plans for Elle and Marsh. There will be a book 4 and a book 5 in the future.

Do you constantly jot down ideas for the next book as you work?

I must admit that I am quite bad at jotting things down. Or, I tend to jot things down and then forget about them. Ideas that are live and have potential tend to stick in my mind. They niggle away at me until I write them into a story. I do however carry a notebook with me at all times. I sometimes jot down bits of conversation I’ve overheard when I’m sitting in a coffee shop.

Elle travels widely – how do you research the many locations that your novels cover?

I like to travel and so the settings I use tend to be places I’ve visited. You have to place settings into historical context though and so I do a lot of research as well. I am particularly fond of old city maps. For example – the Cafe d’Enfer in Paris which appears in Sky Pirates really existed in the early 1900s. Today, it is a 1-Euro store (Pound/dollar store) but the doorway still exists. I find that fascinating.

What is next for Liesel?

Well, I have two short stories which will be appearing in anthologies next year and I am currently working on a standalone novel before continuing with the Chronicles of Light and Shadow – so keep watching this space.

More from Liesel

Character, plot or pace – which one comes first?

One of the most difficult issues a new writer faces is to know where they should begin their story. Creative writing books often advise that a story, whatever its length and genre, should begin at a point where something is happening. Ideally the protagonist, your main character, is facing the essence of drama – a conflict. I agree, but what is essential is that the reader should begin to establish a relationship with that character so that they want to read on to follow them on their journey through the story, to what will hopefully be a satisfying ending.

The initial conflict provides a situation, which brings out aspects of their character that should appeal to the reader as they face their dilemma. The background to these is the place – the setting. This will help set the era, the physical aspects – the stage – against which the characters are performing on the page.

A common mistake is to open with too much explanation about their character’s life before the current situation. This means the reader may become bored before they understand who the protagonist is and become interested in them as a person who they can relate to.

Every writer will be inspired differently by people, places and plot to create that spark, which drives them to convert an initial idea into the first gripping page of a novel.

For example:-

Phoebe’s Challenge: Phoebe is a young woman who works in a mill with her younger brother, Thomas. The idea for the opening was triggered by an illustration in a children’s book written about the hardship of life in cotton mills at the turn of the nineteenth century. I then created the evil overseer Benjamin Bladderwell as the main reason why it became imperative that Phoebe escapes. I liked the idea that the plot would become more complex if a mysterious stranger helped them. Without giving any spoilers away, this then broadened the whole plot out into the world of smuggling around the bay towns of North Yorkshire, England. A time when we were  at war with France. From here Phoebe and Thomas’s adventure involves more conflict amongst the different social classes and a life and death chase with a man who they do not know if they can trust. Over the pace of the adventure another thread is layered, that of the developing romance.

From one initial idea, others spark until what is created is a tightly written romance or mystery to be enjoyed. Wherever my initial idea comes from for a story, I always aim to take my readers on an adventure which will end at an optimistic point, where the main character has overcome problems and survived.

I am always fascinated to hear how other writers work, published or not. What inspires you to write? Where have your best ideas come from?