Thank you so much to fabulous author Chantelle Atkins for inviting me to her blog for an author interview about my latest release Do What You Love. We talk about my inspirations, favourite types of poetry, and what I am working on next.
In the blog she also shares her review. Here is a short review quote from that:
“As other reviewers have said, this is an overwhelmingly sweet and positive collection that will not fail to make you smile during these tough times.”
Do pop over to her blog to read at source and while you are there find out more about Chantelle and her range of books too.
I’m delighted to be joining Donna’s blog tour for Mark Richards new release today with an interview and review too!
Once upon a time I had a business in financial services: nice suits, smart shirts, stripy ties. But always with a small voice inside me. “Let me out,” it said, “I’m a writer.”
I kept the small voice securely under lock and key but then – in 2009 – my brother died of cancer. It was one of those pivotal moments in life. I either let the small voice out and pursued my dream, or I forgot about it for good. So I sold my business, sent my stripy ties to the charity shop and started writing.
Now my time divides between writing for clients – copywriting, ghostwriting – and writing for myself.
In the spring of 2016 I suffered the latest in a long line of mid-life crises and invited my youngest son to come for a walk with me. That led to ‘Father, Son and the Pennine Way’ – the first of three books ostensibly about walking, but really about my ever-changing relationship with my son.
…And now – in September 2020 – I’ve turned my attention to novels. ‘Salt in the Wounds’ in the first book in the Michael Brady series and, when that’s finished, I’ll look to develop two other crime series.
Michael Brady looked at Sandra Garrity’s face. Grey skin. Bloodshot eyes open. Blue lips, her tongue protruding. “Did you watch your husband die, Sandra? Or did he watch you die?”
“Brilliant. Brady is fast becoming the Yorkshire Rebus.”
Billy and Sandra were childhood sweethearts. Writing their names on a lovelock. Fastening it to the end of Whitby pier. Throwing the key into the sea. A lifetime together. A happy retirement in a peaceful hamlet on the North Yorkshire Moors. Until the day they were brutally murdered. “Whoever did this – he didn’t do it quickly. And he enjoyed it…”
Billy was a fisherman, making a living in the cold, cruel North Sea. One night his boat went down. Two crewmen drowned. Billy survived. Are the families looking for revenge? It’s the obvious conclusion. But why have they waited so long? Why have they killed Billy and Sandra? And why kill them in such a barbaric way? “This isn’t a murder, Mike. It’s an execution. A medieval execution.”
Choke Back the Tears is the fourth book in the Michael Brady series. Kershaw’s away, Brady’s in charge. The bucks stops on his desk. But at least Frankie Thomson is back to help him. For now… There are no clues. No motives. It’s a perfect crime scene. All Brady has is his experience and his intuition. And his small team is gettng smaller by the day… Meanwhile he’s battling problems in his personal life. His daughter Ash wants to know the truth about her mother’s death. Brady can’t put off telling her any longer. He’s having doubts about everything. Even the memory of his dead wife.
Choke Back the Tears is the most personal Brady book yet. He has to find the killer. He has to keep his team together. And he owes his daughter an explanation. Michael Brady needs a friend. But he doesn’t have one…
The Michael Brady books are perfect for fans of J D Kirk, Jason Dalgleish, David Gatward, T G Reid – and anyone who likes characters you’ll come to think of as friends.
“Mark Richards has created such a likeable character in Mike Brady that you want to become his friend, go for a drink with him or give him a hug when he obviously needs one. I’ve read all three Brady books within a week and am waiting for the fourth with bated breath.”
Interview with Mark…
Why write a novel? The brutal truth is that I wrote a novel because I ran out of excuses. Travelling back in time I was a dull bugger in a suit, with a business in financial services. I also had this small voice which tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Let me out, you want to be a writer.” In 2009 my brother died of cancer. It was one of those pivotal moments in life. I realised that I either let the small voice out and did what I really wanted to do, or I forgot about it for good. So I sold my business, sent my stripy ties to the charity shop and started writing – starting a new business as a freelance copywriter. Then the small voice started up again. “Let me out, you want to write a novel.” Fortunately I was too busy – no time. Then lockdown struck in March 2020: I immediately lost two clients in the day job and ran out of excuses. Suddenly I did have the time. I skulked away to the spare room and started Salt in the Wounds… Why mystery/thriller/crime? If I was going to move into commercial fiction I wanted a big market and clearly mystery/thriller/crime comes second after romance. My intention with Mike Brady was to land the books fairly and squarely in the middle of the target – to write books that were at least equal to those that were selling well. I read a couple of books by popular authors and thought I could do that. But the books are really about Michael Brady’s internal journey as much as they’re about the crimes. There’s a great quote – supposedly attributed to Joseph Wambaugh – along the lines of, ‘the best crime fiction isn’t about cops working on cases, it’s about cases working on cops.’ That’s how it is with Brady, and you’ll see the impact of the cases over the course of the series. Would you consider any other genre? I’ve got about 10,000 words of a post-apocalyptic book written. When I lost my clients and ran out of excuses it was really a toss-up between Mike Brady and Rafe Mueller (another damaged soul…) I have got other books out there: I’ve written three books about long distance walks I’ve done with Alex, my youngest son. Again though, they’re not about the walks as much as the relationship between Alex and me. Pop ‘Mark Richards, Father, Son and…’ into Amazon and you’ll find them. But brand is important for an author, so I don’t feature those books on my website: for the foreseeable future, I’ll focus on mystery/thriller/crime.
Why did you choose Whitby for the books? As a few people know I live in Scarborough, 20 miles down the coast from Whitby. I chose Whitby because it has such a good ‘sense of place.’ Captain Cook, Dracula, traditional English fishing port, history, Heartbeat, the Moors, fish and chips.
Living so close to it I thought I knew the town quite well. You don’t know a town at all until you start planning to murder someone there… Where did the idea for Michael Brady come from? We have three children – boy, girl, boy. When Eleanor was 14/15 it’s fair to say she went through a fairly rebellious phase. We’re great pals now and she’s my football-buddy, but at the time father/daughter relationships were slightly strained, and there were certainly boyfriends I wasn’t told about. I used to lie awake at night and ask myself a very simple question: ‘how the hell will I cope if anything happens to my wife?’ Simply put, that’s where the idea for Michael Brady came from and at the start of Salt in the Wounds that’s exactly where he is. His wife has been killed in a hit-and-run and he’s driving across the North York Moors with Ash (Ashley), his teenage daughter. He’s determined to start a new life, be a good dad to Ash and has absolutely no intention of going back into the police. And then his best friend is murdered… So Brady’s relationship with Ash is very much my imagined relationship with Elle (Eleanor). The sarcastic replies she gives him are exactly the sort of replies Elle gave me and – like I was when she was in her early teenage years – Brady has a permanent struggle between being protective and allowing her enough freedom. Interestingly one reader in the US took me to task, saying he wouldn’t allow his daughter to speak to him in the way Ash talks to Brady, “but I guess that’s the difference between the US and the UK.” I thought he missed the point – like many teenage girls Ash feels physically awkward around her dad, so when they have these ‘banter conversations’ she’s really giving her dad a sort of verbal hug. By the time you get to Book 4 Brady is tentatively starting his first relationship after his wife – and obviously Ash is going to have some views on the potential new girlfriend. And be on hand with dating advice… ‘All characters are fictitious…’ But what about Archie? Nail. Head. Archie isn’t fictitious. Archie is Pepper, our Springer Spaniel, brought back to life. We got Pep in January 2006. She was just the most brilliant family pet, and my walking buddy on the cliff top. We finally said goodbye to her in November 2019 – and I still drop my toast on the floor and expect her to be there. So Mike Brady’s dog, Archie, is Pepper brought back to life. Archie’s love of sausages and his desperate need to roll in a dead fish? That’s Pepper. If you want to know more about Pep I brought all the short stories I wrote about her and family life together in a book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08BCGLZTW How much research do you do? Compared to other writers? Honestly, I don’t know. I suspect ‘above average’ is the answer. I do all my own research and that includes the physical side of it. I’ve hung off the end of Whitby Pier (Alex held on to me), gone trespassing on a railway line, trekked across the Moors…
For ‘Choke Back the Tears’ I was contemplating jumping into the North Sea fully clothed (you’ll see why) but as I was recovering from Covid at the time I had a long conversation with a girl who goes wild swimming instead. One of the best things about research is how incredibly helpful people are. For Salt in the Wounds I had two or three long conversations with an officer in a woman’s prison, plus a paramedic. The River Runs Deep was witness protection and drowning. For The Echo of Bones I had long, long e-mail conversations with a forensic pathologist in Tennessee. And for the latest book about five trips to Whitby and a detailed conversation with a midwife. Coming up? Brady still owes Dave a fishing trip. I’ll have to go out on a boat and try and catch a ten-pound cod. I’m not looking forward to it – I don’t like boats – but it has to be done. And an idea I had this morning means I might have to sleep rough for a night. And while I didn’t use it in a book, my research has also taught me what to plant if you’ve buried a body in your allotment. Roses at first, then brassicas – cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli… How much of you is there in Brady? Brady’s 42 and his sister tells him he ‘looks a bit like Chris Hemsworth,’ so there aretwo boxes I don’t tick straightaway… I’m in a lot of the small details of Mike Brady. How he likes his bacon sandwiches, how he has his tea, eating fish and chips by the harbour. But Brady’s physically brave – I’m not. Then again I’ve done stand-up comedy in Barnsley… Brady’s relationship with Ash is unquestionably based on my relationship with my daughter. The replies she gives him – ‘This is a cool town, Dad. Two garden centres and a garage. Oh, and a Chinese takeaway. And a car park. I’ll certainly be coming here with my friends’ – are exactly the replies Ellie would have given me. Ditto, Archie. We had a Springer for 13 years, before we lost her in November 2019. Archie is simply Pepper re-born, and when Archie rolls in a dead fish, that’s Pep. Rumour has it you’ve done stand-up comedy. How useful is that when you’re writing a novel? I have. I woke up with a midlife crisis one Saturday morning and told my wife I wanted to try stand-up. I did it for a year and was reasonably good – good enough to get paid and good enough to realise how good the top performers were. I did a gig in York where I was the warm-up for Russell Howard as he was just breaking through, and he was on another level. But stand-up is brilliant training for writing. When you’re writing stand-up material is has to be tight and sharp – I could give you a great example, but it involves a lot of swearing. The same is true of novels. ‘Get it right, keep it tight, cut out the £$%&e’ as the old newspaper editors used to say. You’re self-published at the moment. Would you like to be traditionally published?
As a few people know I had a little bit of a flirt with a publisher around Christmas/New Year. They offered me a contract but I turned it down because of changes they wanted to make to the books. In the short-term that was probably a poor decision, at least from a commercial point of view, but what they wanted to do was simply wrong and would have made the books worse. Long-term let’s see what happens. For now I’m concentrating on the next book in the Brady series which I’ll have written, edited and published for Christmas. No way could you do that with a traditional publisher. Netflix knock on the door: who plays Brady on TV? You know what? I don’t mind. I consciously don’t do detailed descriptions of my characters because I want to give the readers the freedom to imagine the characters as they see fit. If I can give them an impression, that’ll do fine. When Brady first meets the man who’ll be his boss, Kershaw, he’s described as ‘silver-haired, silver-tongued.’ Seriously, do you need any more? Who hasn’t had a boss like that? So no, I’m happy to leave it to the readers. Several of them see Frankie as Suranne Jones. I think she’s too old for Frankie, but I’m happy to leave it to Netflix. I’ll only get cross if they mis-cast Archie… What’s your favourite thing about writing? Let me say one thing straightaway: writing is an incredibly selfish pastime. You have to say to your wife/husband/partner, ‘Yes, I’m very willing to build you a cold frame/paint the kitchen/go out for a drink… But not now, because I have to finish this chapter.’ There are also plenty of times when I’m ‘there but not there.’ My wife will say something to me and I simply won’t reply. I’m in an alley in Whitby murdering someone… That said, I love writing. Why do I write? The same reason as I breathe. I’m not someone who believes in inspiration but occasionally you’ll write a sentence/para and it’s exactly right. Possibly even funny. There are not many better feelings. And two things I didn’t even consider when I started writing novels. The research (see above) and the interaction with readers, which I love. And your least favourite? Other than the comment above about selfishness, writing is time intensive. There are no economies of scale. Two thousand words takes twice as long as a thousand, and it has to be done – especially if you have a deadline and Jeff Bezos is threatening to flog you in the market square if you don’t meet it. On a lovely day that’s tough. The other kids are outside playing on the grass: you’re in the classroom writing your English essay. Your favourite fictional character? Probably Lisbeth Salander in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She’s in such a good place at the end of that book that I won’t read the next two.
Thomas Cromwell in the Hilary Mantel books if he’s allowed to qualify as a fictional character. And obviously Hannibal Lecter. “More than my job’s worth, mate.” “Fair enough, I’ll eat your liver.” Plotter or pantser? Gardener or architect? One of the things that stopped me writing a book for a long time was my conviction that I couldn’t plot a novel. I knew I could write reasonably well, but I thought I was limited to articles/blogs in the 600 to 3,000 word range. Essentially what I wrote for clients in the day job as a freelance copywriter. Then lockdown struck, I immediately lost two clients and my standard excuse – I don’t have time to write a novel – went out of the window. So I invented Michael Brady, killed his wife, stuck him in a car with Ash and let him get on with it. Right now I’d describe myself – whichever term you go for – as half way between the two. I know where the story is going and I know some of the key signposts along the way – but I do think you have to let the characters talk to you. Possibly the best example of that is Ruby in ‘The Echo of Bones.’ I had no real idea of Ruby until I started writing about her. But then she opened her mouth, started talking and was fully formed in front of me. The moment she spat in the tea Brady had given her I knew I had a really great character. You’ve got three children. Have any of them inherited the writing gene? ‘Yes’ is the simple answer. Dan has just finished his PhD at Leeds University which involved a fair amount of writing. Alex wrote a western during lockdown – which I need to edit for him. But girls always come out on top don’t they? Elle used to go upstairs to write her English essays and come down again 15 minutes later. She’s always been able to write at speed and I introduced her to an American hybrid publisher who specialised in post-apocalyptic books. She wrote four series for him and made enough for the deposit on a house. #ProudDadAlert What do you do when you’re not writing? A few people know the awful truth. I am North Yorkshire’s only known supporter of Wolverhampton Wanderers. I watch illegal streams of their games and shout a lot. What do you write on? Wax tablet? State of the art Mac? I’ve got an HP laptop. I think it was about three hundred quid. It’s on a stand on my desk and I use a full size keyboard which connects to the laptop via magic. All I really do on my laptop is use Word and Excel, so I don’t need anything powerful. Oh, and the illegal streams, of course. But keep that to yourself…
Thank you to Mark Richards for being my guest today. I really enjoyed finding out more about him and his writing. And… I couldn’t resist reading and reviewing!
It’s rare that I read crime and I am now wondering why!
Many thanks to the author for an advanced review copy and to Donna Morfett for including me in the tour.
I absolutely loved this. I’m late to discover Mark but so glad that I managed to dive in and read book 4. First thing that struck me whilst reading Choke Back The Tears #4 is the short, snappy chapters, which carry your attention brilliantly. And the great characterisation, Brady is so well written, as are all the supporting characters and potential murderers/suspects. The murder scene is gory and much detail is given for the reader to deliberate the who and the what and the why. The setting of the scene in Whitby works well, you can just about smell and taste the fish, chips and bacon sarnies. And I just knew that Archie was fashioned on the author’s dog, guessed it before I read Mark Richard’s interview on my blog. I enjoyed the personal elements woven into the tale about Brady’s daughter which gave the story a pleasing human touch which I appreciated. But… perhaps the aspect I enjoyed the most was the story’s insight into how tough it must be for coppers and law enforcers to cope with the heinous impact of crimes such as these on their stomachs, (as in keep from puking,) and their daily lives.
It’s an easy one to rate… a page turning 5 stars.
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Hi Claire, welcome to my blog. It’s lovely to have you visit.
Tell us a little about yourself…
I’m a mum, wife, writer and deputy-editor for writing magazine Write On! I love reading books and eating cake but I also like being out in the great outdoors. I always seem to be slightly behind with things but I am beginning to accept that’s just life!
What is Write On! magazine?
Write On! is a magazine created by Pen to Print for writers, by writers. What that means is the magazine is put together by a dedicated team of volunteers who are all writers published and unpublished and our content is made up from wonderful local and global submissions. We accept poetry, prose, non fiction and art of all kinds showcasing talent in the Barking and Dagenham area and beyond. Pen to Print is the parent organisation and is committed to bringing creative workshops to the local area and worldwide. As well as Write On!, they run regular competitions for novel writing, short stories, poetry, audio plays and stage plays. Every year they run a literary festival called ReadFest in September and have a whole host of guest speakers of a variety of genre and other writing related topics. It’s a wonderful project to be part of.
Why do you write in the fantasy genre and what in particular is it about fantasy humour that appeals to you?
I have loved the fantasy genre since I was about twelve years old and first discovered the fantasy and sci-fi shelves in my local library. I would take home massive books, a dozen at a time, on the bus and spend my time devouring them. My debut book was actually hopeful dystopia with just a hint of fantasy within. It wasn’t until I started writing the Roshaven books that I felt like I’d hit my stride. I love Piers Anthony, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Jasper Fforde, Ben Aaraonovitch – all authors with that ability to make you read along, nodding and smiling to yourself at the wit and humour. I never set out to write fantasy humour, the characters made me do it. The Rose Thief is the first book in the Roshaven series followed by The Silk Thief and The Bone Thief. There is also a novella called The Interspecies Poker Tournament.
Tell us what inspires you?
I am inspired every day by other writers, especially other indie authors, who always seem so focused and so dedicated. I am currently on a wobble and taking a small break from writing so I can reenergise and get back to it. I think it’s important to recognise that taking a break is okay.
In your Roshaven series who is your favourite character and why?
There are so many wonderful characters in Roshaven but I think my favourite is Jenni, the stinky yet loyal sprite.
Are you a plotter, pantser, or plantser (somewhere in between!) Lol. Or do you dare to follow no rules?
I’m a discovery writer. My usual format is to get an idea, get terribly excited and start writing making it to the 20-30k mark. Then I realise I need a bit of structure so I do a little bit of loose planning before carrying on, plot hole oblivious. Usually by the 45-50k mark I start working out the end and putting in brief chapter headings of what I want to happen. Sometimes I don’t even write those in the first draft. I start to get antsy because I know I have plot holes so that’s when I usually give in and start second draft editing. I usually have to do a lot of jigging about, extra writing and emergency filling in. I tried to plan once and got so bored going through the planning motions that I had no desire to write the book.
Complete this sentence. Your writing muse (or your character’s/muse’s name.) hollers in your ear because… they’re tired of waiting for me to sit down and write haha.
Who are your favourite fantasy authors?
Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Ben Aaronovitch, Robert Jordan, Sara Douglass, Robin Hobb, Terry Brooks, Terry Goodkind, Piers Anthony, Douglas Adams, Jasper Fforde, Gail Carriger, Genevieve Cogman and probably hundreds more but that’s what was on the top of my head.
I believe you are… ~Writing passionately and hopelessly addicted to cake~ Me too! What is your favourite cake you like to bake and why?
It varies – of course – I love my Nan’s Victoria sponge and I make a mean lemon drizzle. Battenberg is a personal favourite, carrot cake done well and of course a good dense chocolate cake, not too sweet.
Have you ever had a baking disaster? Did you save it?
Oh my days, I’ve had millions usually to do with sinkage. Sometimes it gets saved and served under custard other times it gets chucked. It depends what the final outcome was meant to be. I don’t bake as much as I used to and I do miss it.
I love poetry and I believe you also write poetry. What is it about this form of expression that appeals to you?
I like how poetry can be such a personal expression of mood in the moment but you don’t have to hold on to it. You can express it and then move on. I find writing poetry very cathartic.
How do you market your books?
Probably not as well as I should. I try to be visible on social media with regularly posting but I know I’m not as engaged as I should be. Time is always the issue, I never have enough. I do try to keep an eye on what works and what doesn’t so that I can be as effective as possible when marketing. I have a newsletter, I take part in giveaways, I’ve tried some paid promotions with various success but it’s definitely something I need to get more focused on.
I’ve recently finished writing a second in a series and found it darn hard. What are your feelings about writing series. Any advice you can give to current/future writers of series…
Oh my gosh, it is tough – especially when you leave a long gap between books as I did, twice! My advice is to keep a worldbuilding bible, even if you are writing in this world, having all your places and characters in one place really, really helps. Two of my characters have very distinctive accents so they have a lexicon of words so I don’t forget how they say something. I am still working on my bible and 5 books in, it’s becoming very necessary. From a planners point of view, I think you need to know your arc over the series before you write and ideally, have most of the series fleshed out in some way or another before you publish – you never know when a character is going to throw a spanner in the works and change everything.
Do share an excerpt of your writing.
An extract from The Rose Thief
There was a bit of shoving and muttering as Ned pushed his way through the ranks. He didn’t have to look too hard to find the murder scene, all he had to do was follow the curious crowd. A fair number of the shifty looking men in nondescript clothing had come to make sure Two-Face Bob was actually dead. Certain people owed certain things and if his death were true, life had suddenly become a lot brighter. It only took one look to know for certain. One of Two-Face Bob’s faces stared lifelessly at the smog ridden skies above, both eyes missing. The other face, which incidentally remained on his head, attached to his body, had eyes popping, mouth open as if to scream, and a terrified look of fear and shock frozen in place. Someone had clearly taken a violent dislike to the man. Looking down at the separated visages of Two-Face Bob, Ned felt a flicker of unease surge in his stomach. It could be because he hadn’t eaten in the past twenty-four hours. Or it could be because Two-Face Bob had been to see him less than five minutes ago, claiming intel on the Rose Thief. Ned didn’t hold much weight with coincidences. The viciousness of the attack was unusual for the type of murder usually committed in the city of Roshaven. Put that together with Two-Face Bob’s extensive protection system of both magical and mundane origin and it was obvious.
‘He’s been ripped apart by a wraith,’ Ned muttered under his breath.
‘Care to comment, Spinks?’
Ned turned to his left, his heart sinking at the tall, willowy figure standing next to him. Mariah Neeps was… well she was a damn fine figure of a woman provided you never wanted to keep a shred of personal information to yourself. Neeps worked for The Daily Blag.
‘I’ll just elaborate on my Warlock theory then. Shouldn’t be too difficult. They had a ruckus with one up in Narborough a few months back.’ Neeps sucked the end of her recorder thoughtfully as she internally swept through the memorised headlines from her rival news bringer, The Chronicle.
‘They what?’ asked Ned.
But before Neeps could elaborate, Mrs Wicket barged her way through the crowd to stand in front of Ned. Her general shape and appearance were hard to identify thanks to the several flowing capes and feathered hats Mrs Wicket wore when she sallied forth. She was of the opinion that you can never have too much of a good thing and in her mind capes and feathered hats were the epitome of fashion. She was right, if she’d lived a hundred years ago. Still the capes and hats made her a local celebrity, the one person that simply everyone knew.
The bright orange feather on her highest hat was dangerously close to Ned’s eye. He attempted to sidle to the right slightly but was stopped by a podgy hand poking a sausage shaped finger hard into his chest.
‘What are you going to do about my safety, hmmmm?’ Mrs Wicket turned her head left and right, to make sure she had a suitable audience. Feathers whipped Ned in the face.
‘All citizens’ safety is a high priority Mrs Wicket, yourself included. My fellow catchers will be here shortly to seal the scene and a full report will be generated for the Emperor.’
‘May he live for ever and ever.’ The crowd chanted firmly, all eyes fixed on Ned.
All my links including my website, Amazon book page, email newsletter and social media posts can be found on my linktree:https://linktr.ee/clairebuss
Claire Buss is an award-winning multi-genre author and poet. She wanted to be Lois Lane when she grew up but work experience at her local paper was eye-opening. Instead, Claire went on to work in a variety of marketing and administrative roles for over a decade but never felt quite at home. An avid reader, baker and expert procrastinator Claire won second place in the Barking and Dagenham Pen to Print writing competition in 2015 with her debut novel, The Gaia Effect, setting her writing career in motion. Since then, Claire has published seventeen novels and poetry collections and had her short fiction published in six anthologies. The Gaia Effect won the Uncaged Book Reviews Raven Award for Favourite Sci-Fi/Fantasy novel in 2017 and the first book in her humorous fantasy series, The Rose Thief, won in 2019. Working with Pen to Print, Claire delivers regular Book Surgeries offering marketing help and advice to new and established authors. In 2019 Claire was part of the original team involved in creating and establishing Write On! Magazine and continues to support, work and promote the magazine in her role as Deputy Editor, a different kind of Lois who champions new writers and helps them share their creativity. Claire continues to write passionately and is hopelessly addicted to cake.
Thank you so much Claire for being such an entertaining and interesting guest. I am also passionately addicted to cake! And her humorous fantasy books sound fab. Do comment below to share your love of books and cake!
Thrilled to welcome you to my blog to chat about your book launch for Vigilantes. Vigilantes releases today!
MJ: The blurb is very intriguing Allan. Where is the story set and why did you choose to set it in that country/place? Are your novels and short stories set in different countries? And what genres do you write in and why?
ALLAN: First, I would like to thank you, Marjorie for giving me the opportunity to visit your popular blog. The setting for Vigilantes is in Bordeaux, France where my protagonists are attending a funeral for one of their co-workers. Their escapades will take them to different European countries as well as more obscure destinations in Asia. They search for two brothers who have been evading the law for twenty years, by hiding in different countries. I love international stories and I wanted this one to take the readers to different settings as seen through the eyes of my hero.
Yes, I set many of my stories in different settings, different countries. Part of the fun in writing is the research, visiting various cities online, looking at photos, what is the country or city famous for? Can my readers see the cafes and boutiques, hear the language or the birds singing, or the waves beating on the shores? I hope so.
Although my reading preferences lean toward thrillers and mysteries, I love writing historical fiction as well and plain feel-good stories too.
MJ: Aww, so very fascinating and such a breadth in your writing. Thank you for your kind words. I love how you interview so many guests on your blog, Allan. Including me – twice! You are so generous with your time. The writing and creative community is so important isn’t it? You must have met so many amazing guests.
ALLAN: I have indeed, met many wonderful, friendly folks, like you. We are all in the same situation of wanting to share our stories with a new and wider audience. When I originally started my blog – South Branch Scribbler – I did so as a way to share my own writing and books and the idea came to me, I could have guests and share their stories, find out more about them and pass it on. It has been a fantastic experience. I not only discovered really cool people but really cool books. So much fun.
MJ: Yes, my thoughts too. We are all in this together and gain so much by being supportive friends. I see you are from Canada. Yeah! It’s a lovely country, so friendly and welcoming. If I could become an adoptee Canadian I would… My daughters and I visited Montreal in the days of easy travel before the pandemic. I loved it! Which area of Canada are you from? And fill us in on any family/details/hobbies you have…
ALLAN: I must admit, I love Canada and feel most fortunate to be a citizen of this huge beautiful country. Thank you for the nice comments and you’re always welcome. I too, love Montreal, a fascinating city with so many cultures and deep history. But there are so many other great places to visit. I live on the east coast of Canada, in the maritime province of New Brunswick. Our province borders the state of Maine in the west, The province of Quebec in the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. The seaside community I live in is called Cocagne and is mainly a French speaking village of Acadian descendants. The bay is across the road and an inspiration and setting for many of my stories. My family lives close by and I see them all frequently. I’m fortunate that way.
As of late, I have been dedicated to my hobby of writing. I am fortunate to be retired and can devote more time to my stories. Previous hobbies included stained glass and woodworking and as gratifying as they have been, I’ve decided to concentrate on my writing and it remains my central focus.
MJ: Awesome. Your latest book is part of The Drake Alexander series. How many books are in the series and can you tell me how they connect, what inspired them and what they are about?
ALLAN: My newest novel coming is the third in the DA series, titled Vigilantes. The two earlier novels were the first stories I wrote. Drake Alexander is a former soldier of the Canadian Armed Forces. The first novel brings him and his people to look for the man that killed Drake’s best friend’s sister. It took them three years to track him down. During this novel, Drake discovered he and his cohorts have a talent for rounding up bad people. They have the financial resources, the time, the manpower, the know-how and they don’t back down from anyone.
The second novel has Drake and his team rescue a priest that is a boyhood friend of Drake’s when he gets in trouble from an historical relic discovered in his church in Peru. Incan gold and Spanish raiders. This setting was inspired by the horrible plight of the Incan people at the hands of Spanish and foreign looters. It was the first story I wanted to write but when I started, a novel by well known author, Clive Cussler, came out titled Incan Gold. I didn’t want to be accused of plagiarizing Cussler’s idea, so I passed on it and wrote Dark Side of a Promise, which takes place in Bangladesh, another country that amazes me.
Vigilantes picks up from the last tangle with the enemy. As I mentioned earlier, at a funeral, Drake is approached by a man who continues to mourn for his daughter that was killed during a bank robbery twenty years previous and the culprits have never been apprehended. He asks them to help.
MJ: Wow, good luck with Vigilantes, sounds fantastic. As you also write short stories, (and I do too!) which do you prefer writing long narratives, or short stories? I’d love to hear more about your short story collection.
ALLAN: I’ve always enjoyed reading short stories and love writing them. I have no preference when it come to writing a longer or shorter story. Sometimes an idea forms with no length in mind. Occasionally it ends as a short story or novella. Or maybe I get an idea that fits with the shorter version. It would be difficult to say which I like best as I find fulfillment in both. I feel it begins with the idea or inspiration. There have been several times when I sit to write and I intend for it to be a short story but most times, I let the words flow and see where it ends up. It only differs when I decide to write a longer version because of an idea, like the novels we talked about above. But I enjoy both equally.
My latest collection is titled A Box of Memories. Many of the short stories were inspired by memories of an incident in my life or a memory of what may have happened to someone else. One story in particular – Four Boxes of Memories – was inspired by my own boxes of keepsakes, things I can’t throw away, birthday cards, drawings by the boys when they were small, rocks and seashells, postcards, plane tickets, and such that make up our histories. There were four of them and I was thinking that someday I would have to part with them, no matter how dear they were.
MJ: That sounds lovely – I also find it difficult to throw things away! Are you a procrastinator/plotter/panster/cafe/at home writer? What is your favourite place to write?
ALLAN: I have the neatest spot to write in. I converted my previous workshop to a more friendly spot to read and watch movies… and to write. I’m a morning person and I cherish quiet moments. No music in the background, no one leaning over my shoulder. My wife has been terrific, allowing me to write freely and uninterrupted. I write from six in the morning until eleven, usually. And almost every day now. Unlike others, I could never write in a café or in public, too many distractions for me and yet, I admire writers who can do so.
I’m definitely a panster. I run with an idea, no outlining, just enough research to get me going. There have been a few times I knew the ending but not often. I like to see where it all goes. Interesting enough, on my WIP, I was stuck and stared at the computer for some time, unsure of where to go and when I couldn’t decide I started to write about where the protagonist was sitting and then the words followed.
MJ: Oh, me too Pantser to the core! What your writer’s tip and or disaster? Make it funny, serious or both!
ALLAN: So, my one and only tip is to keep writing and sort out the garbage later.
MJ: Sounds like simple but great advice. What do your family think about your writing?
ALLAN: When you mention family, I think of my children and they’re spouses. Their support and encouragement have been tremendous. Always attending my events, sharing my posts, telling their friends but oddly enough, they don’t read my stories. They are happy for my accomplishments but not readers. Oh well.
My other families’, siblings and in-laws for example, read and comment on my writing, usually favorable. They don’t always like the rough sections and tell me so, but in a nice way.
But the support is always there, the encouragement is always appreciated.
MJ: That’s wonderful!
The master vintner at Chateau Lambert Estates, Jean-Paul Chouinard, stares up the rise at the family cemetery, where the darling of the house was laid to rest yesterday. The grave site is surrounded by four men and a woman. The people whose service Mireille Lambert was in when she died. One of them was her lover. One of them is Drake Alexander.
Chouinard knows what they do. He knows who Alexander is. He hears the whispers. Vigilantes. He grieves knowing the brothers who are responsible for his daughter’s death twenty years ago have not been apprehended. Maybe it’s been too long. Maybe the brothers are already dead. Maybe, if he asked, Alexander and his people could find them.
Buy your copy of Vigilantes on Amazon:
I live by Cocagne Bay in Eastern Canada where the summers are hot and the snow is deep in the winter. I married the greatest gal on earth, Gloria, and have a son Adam, two stepsons Mark and Chris (Mireille)Young. Three grandchildren Matthieu, Natasha and Damien.
I love reading. My mother was a school teacher and taught me to read and write when I was young. I’m presently retired and write as often as possible. My other hobbies include woodworking and stained glass.
I love jazz and am a HUGE fan of JJ Cale.
I have a wonderful life. I hope that you will read my novels – Wall of War and Dark Side of a Promise & a short story collection titled A Box of Memories. I trust you will enjoy them and if so please tell someone.
I can be reached at email@example.com Please visit www.southbranchscribbler.com if you like short stories, guest writers, artists and musicians and interviews.
Hi Alex welcome to my blog. It’s great to be able to return the favour, and to thank you for the lovely feature interview you did for me recently on your blog.
Alex Pearl is an extremely shortsighted copywriter, author, ghost writer, travel writer & artist.
MJ: I love the premise of your YA novel Sleeping with the Blackbirds – a darkly humorous modern fairy tale story – which tackles many important topics: bullies, homelessness, single mums and abusive parents. How did you get the idea for the story?
ALEX: That’s a tricky one. The story came to me gradually, and the circumstances in which it was written was fairly bizarre. I was working for an ad agency at the time that was going through a global merger, and work dried up while this was all going on. So I had time to think about my first book. Strangely enough, the title came to me before the story became fully formed. And the rough outline of the story involving the schoolboy Roy Nuttersley leading a miserable life with awful parents and school bullies looming large in his life, and of course, the birds who try to assist him – these were ideas that I had in my head before I started writing the thing. I think the idea of a young boy and birds may have come to me because my son at that time used to imitate seagulls, and he was quite brilliant at it. And it’s no coincidence that we have a 400 year-old-oak tree that towers over our own garden, just as one does in Roy Nuttersley’s. But the details of the story evolved as I wrote it. That said, the ending to the story, which many people didn’t see coming and seem to have enjoyed, came to me before I’d started writing it. So it was a case of knowing how it started and how it ended but not knowing much else until I started to write.
MJ: I believe your debut was published in 2011. Are you surprised at how your writing path has changed/developed since then?
ALEX: Not really. I’m a bit of a chameleon, probably because of my background in advertising and the fact that copywriters are always briefed to adopt a certain tone of voice that is suitable for the audience they are addressing. So for instance, you’d write in a certain formal style when talking about an investment trust to readers of The Telegraph, and a very different lighter tone of voice when talking about Smarties to children and mums. And my approach to writing books is the same. I’d like to have a go at any genre.
MJ: On your Amazon profile, I was amused to read that you are perhaps the only human being on this planet to have been inadvertently locked in a record shop on Christmas Eve. How did this happen? And did you manage to have your Christmas dinner?
ALEX: To this day, I’m not entirely sure how it happened. All I can remember is stepping into the shop in broad daylight. I think it must have been about 4.00 in the afternoon. So it wasn’t even normal closing time. I don’t remember hearing people locking up or anything like that. But that’s what they obviously did. And strangely enough, all the lights were left on. So when I finally found the record I was wanting to buy and discovered nobody behind the till my first reaction was one of mild annoyance. Then when coughing loudly and profusely still produced no results, I went behind the till myself and into a back room that was empty. At this point I gave up all hope of spending my pocket money and marched over to the front door and on yanking it hard to get out, nearly pulled my arm off. It was locked. Only then did I realise the full horror of the situation. But thankfully, I’d spotted a telephone in the back room (this was well before mobile phones had been invented), and I called my father who duly called the police, who in turn tracked down a caretaker who lived in Mile End and took over an hour to finally show up with keys to unlock me from my temporary prison. So in answer to your question, yes, thankfully I did get my Christmas dinner. But it must have been a miserable Christmas for the staff who I learned later, were fired.
MJ: Since you were an advertising copywriter, if I were to ask you to write your own slogan, what would it say?
ALEX: Aha! The advertising slogan question. I actually hate slogans. The best ads don’t actually have them. But that’s a subject for another day. I’d settle for something funny. There’s a lovely piece of graffiti that I’d love to have written: ‘Smile they said. Things could be worse. So he did. And they were.’ It doesn’t say anything about me exactly, but its delicious, deadpan irony is the kind of thing I love. So it does tell you something about me indirectly I guess. I suppose I haven’t really answered your question. Hey ho, or ‘La-di-da’ as Dianne Keaton says in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.
MJ: You mention that you are a slow writer, I relate! Is that because you get distracted? What is the slowest aspect of the writing process for you, or perhaps the most difficult part.
ALEX: I get distracted, I procrastinate, I put things off. I’m just generally a bit shambolic and disorganised. And then when I write I tend to take time; writing and rewriting. I’ve read that Douglas Adams used to go backwards and forwards like this and used to end up with mountains of screwed up paper in his bin, which I find reassuring. The hardest and slowest part for me is the planning stage. For my first book ‘Sleeping with the Blackbirds’ planning took up almost as much time as writing. For my second ‘The Chair Man’ planning and research took me for ever – far longer than it took to write the thing. This said, ‘Blackbirds’ didn’t require any research at all. With ‘The Chair Man’ I had to look into the ways terrorists communicated in 2005. It’s not an easy subject to research as you can imagine. But I did find an obscure book written by academics in America that delved into this. I also had to find out about GCHQ and MI5, which again are difficult subjects to research for obvious reasons. Then, of course, I had to get the politics right. So all in all it was something of a challenge.
MJ: I love your book covers. Do you get much input into choosing them? And are you swayed by enticing covers yourself? What are your favourite cover/s and book/s.
ALEX: I’m glad you mentioned that. I’m very fortunate to have a good friend who is a serious, professional advertising photographer. He photographed and designed both my covers. I love his work, so it’s a bit of a no-brainer using John because you know whatever he produces is going to be fantastic. For ‘Sleeping with the Blackbirds’ he took an atmospheric shot on Hampstead Heath and used an excellent typographer to design a special typeface for the title.
And for ‘The Chair Man’ he created this strong silhouette in the studio and again used a special typeface to create the title. Interestingly, John used a similar silhouette technique for the film poster he shot for Guy Ritchie’s ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.’
MJ: Awesome! I love the black and white style that you use on your blog to platform so many authors. How did that come about? What made you choose that style?
ALEX: Thank you, Marjorie. I wanted to keep the style of the website simple, consistent and stylish. So I deliberately kept the typeface reasonably large sans serif in grey, which always looks classy, and decided that all portraits should be in black and white. Besides creating a distinctive house look, it also gives the books the prominence they need, as they are always reproduced in full colour. Many people have commented on the look of the site, and some love the fact that it’s so very readable. There’s nothing worse than having to squint at tiny type on the screen that you have to blow up.
SLEEPING WITH THE BLACKBIRDS
Eleven-year-old schoolboy, Roy Nuttersley has been dealt a pretty raw deal. While hideous parents show him precious little in the way of love and affection, school bullies make his life a misery. So Roy takes comfort in looking after the birds in his garden, and in return the birds hatch a series of ambitious schemes to protect their new friend. As with the best-laid plans, however, these get blown completely off course – and as a result the lives of both Roy and his arch tormentor, Harry Hodges are turned upside down – but in a surprisingly good way.
“Wonderful images and thought-provoking scenes.” Bramwell Tovey, composer & broadcaster
“The strength of the author’s voice held me captivated long after turning the last page. With the wit of JK Rowling, Alex Pearl has definitely earned his place in the young adult fiction hall of fame.” Lisa McCombs, Readers’ Favorite
“A delightful fairy story that deals sensitively and compellingly with modern-day issues like homelessness, single mums and abusive parents.” George Layton, actor, screenwriter and bestselling author.
THE CHAIR MAN
Michael Hollinghurst is a successful corporate lawyer living a comfortable, suburban life in leafy North West London. But on 7 July 2005, his life is transformed when he steps on a London underground train targeted by Islamist suicide bombers. While most passengers in his carriage are killed, Michael survives the explosion but is confined to a wheelchair as a result.
Coming to terms with his predicament and controlling his own feelings of guilt as a survivor conspire to push him in a direction that is out of character and a tad reckless. In a quest to seek retribution, he resorts to embracing the internet and posing as a radical Islamist in order to snare potential perpetrators. Much to his surprise, his shambolic scheme yields results and is brought to the attention of both GCHQ and a terrorist cell. But before long, dark forces begin to gather and close in on him. There is seemingly no way out for Michael Hollinghurst. He has become, quite literally, a sitting target.”The nearest I ever got to a “terrorist incident” was in East London, when I heard the IRA bomb go off in Docklands in 1996. I cannot predict my reaction were I to be caught up personally in such events, but I hope I would not go the same way as Michael Hollinghurst, the central figure in this entertaining and elaborately plotted novel. It is a gripping thriller that repays careful and close reading (and I will certainly read it again).” Graham Smith
MJ: If you could share your experiences and thoughts whilst writing The Chair Man? ALEX: Once I had worked out the story in some detail and written a synopsis, and had taken copious notes from research sources both online and from books, I felt able to start writing. And the writing process is far more enjoyable and liberating than the planning and research, which I don’t especially enjoy. But it’s the ammunition I need – a kind of road map if you like. Without it I just don’t know where I’m going and I simply don’t have the confidence to write. I envy people who are pantsters and can just sit down and write. I just can’t do it. I tried it once and after 15,000 words I dried up. I still have the unfinished manuscript somewhere. My daughter nagged me for ages to finish it, so I wrote ‘Sleeping with the Blackbirds’ instead. MJ: I believe The Chair Man is your thriller debut. Have you any plans to write any more thrillers and if so what topic/backdrop do you plan to use? ALEX: I knew you’d ask me that. I really want to write a sequel to ‘The Chair Man’ but am struggling to come up with a storyline that I’m happy with. I know how the first half of the novel kicks off, but it’s the last two thirds that have so far eluded me. Perhaps I’ll resolve it. We’ll see. MJ: How did you become an author? And do you think it has changed you? ALEX: It just happened. I suppose I’ve always toyed with the idea of writing fiction, but never really had the confidence that I could do it. But once you have an idea in your head, writing it isn’t actually that difficult. Has it changed me? No. Not one bit. MJ: Have you a favourite character in The Chair Man? Or a particular character that you had great difficulty developing, or who altered in a way you did not expect. ALEX: That’s a really good question. And the answer is yes. Surprisingly, I ended up liking one of the terrorists Qssim who is a very complex character. I originally intended him to be pretty nasty, which he is initially. But as the book develops his character develops, too and he becomes a much more sympathetic character that you can relate to. It’s interesting that some readers find him more likeable than the protagonist who is a victim of a terrorist attack.
MJ: What are your writing plans for the future? ALEX: If I can plan a sequel to ‘The Chair Man’ I will definitely write it. Time will tell. I’m also planning to get back into painting, which I haven’t done for many years. I used to paint large abstract paintings on glass and exhibit them. I’m hoping to produce enough new pieces for an exhibition in the next year or two. You can view some of my work here: http://glasspaintingsbyalexpearl.weebly.com
Wow, I’m impressed! And so jealous, I wish I could paint.
MJ. Is there one marketing tip you would like to share? ALEX: I’m no expert at marketing. But I have found that offering a free ebook and using services like The Fussy Librarian to promote it can be quite effective. I have seen around 800 copies downloaded in one day. But services do vary. Ereader News Today managed to shift 1,000 copies on one occasion and only 300 on another. I was rather pleased with myself when I placed a free ad on Nextdoor.co.uk for residents of NW3 which is the postcode where my thriller is set. Doing so led to 100 downloads in a day and three reviews. And that cost me nothing.
Alex’s first novel ‘Sleeping with the Blackbirds’, a darkly humorous urban fantasy, written for children and young adults, was initially published by PenPress in 2011. It has since become a Kindle bestseller in the US. In 2014, his fictionalised account of the first British serviceman to be executed for cowardice during the First World War was published by Mardibooks in its anthology, ‘The Clock Struck War’. A selection of his blog posts is also available in paperback under the title ‘Random Ramblings of a Short-sighted Blogger.’ In 2019, his psychological thriller, ‘The Chair Man’ that is set in London in 2005 following the terrorist attack on its public transport system, was published as an ebook by Fizgig Press. The paperback followed in 2020. Alex lives in NW London with his wife and two children who are far smarter than their old man. He is quite possibly the only human being on this planet to have been inadvertently locked in a record shop on Christmas Eve.
I’m pleased to welcome Chantelle Atkins to my blog to chat about her writing group Chasing Driftwood. Recently, I submitted a poem to her writing competition and won joint first prize, winning a 1 to 1! It’s been really helpful getting 1 to 1 feedback on a short story idea I am developing. More about that soon.
In the meantime, here is the Q and A with Chantelle.
I’m curious about the origin of the name of your writing group: Chasing Driftwood? Why did you decide to set this group up?
I decided to set it up because at the time I had been writing and self-publishing for a while and had learnt so much in the process that I wanted to be able to help other writers with their own journeys. Also, I had never been able to find a writing group locally that fit in with having a family, so I set up the adult group first to fill that need and it went from there. I used to be a childminder and really missed working with kids, so putting on creative writing workshops for children was the next natural step and this eventually grew into after-school writing clubs, adult workshops, online courses and more! I think it comes from a passion for writing. I want to help other people start writing and keep writing. I had a long period of time where I lost writing entirely because life was so busy, so I know what it’s like to not have the time or the energy to devote to it. But I want to show people that you can make time and that it is definitely worth it! The name came from two old indie songs that were in my head one day when I was trying to choose a name for it. Chasing Rainbows by Shed 7 and Driftwood by Travis. I’d been stuck for a name for ages as so many have already been taken that use the word writing or write for example, so I went with Chasing Driftwood Writing Group and thought it sounded unique.
I’d love to find out more about your writing journey. Please elaborate…How long have you been writing for? And when did you start the group?
I’ve been writing my whole life. I still have lots of the stories I wrote as a child. I was totally obsessed with reading and writing. It’s all I ever wanted to do. I always found it so incredibly exciting and magical. Through my teens it saved me and my stories grew into novels. I also wrote a diary back then religiously every day. I then had a ten-year period where I did not write at all. This coincided with finishing University and having my first child. I then had another very soon after and decided to become a childminder so that I could earn money while looking after my own children. Then I had the third one…and I was exhausted, happy, but exhausted! There just wasn’t time for writing and I thought I had left it behind me and missed the boat. When my then third child started school, I had a sudden panic that life was slipping me by and I hadn’t fulfilled my childhood dreams. So I quit childminding, started dog-walking and got back into writing. Once it started, it just refused to stop and that was ten years ago now! When the fourth child came along, I hung onto my writing with all my might and these days I am very strict about making time for it. I will never let it go again. I published my first novel The Mess Of Me in 2013 and set up Chasing Driftwood in 2015. We then became a CIC in 2017 and in 2020 I gained a business partner!
In your opinion, what demons and obstacles are there to overcome in order to progress and be successful in writing?
Oh my gosh, so many, and that’s the saddest thing, because so many people start writing and give up, or want to write but never dare to do it…Time is the biggest hurdle for most people I work with. Lots of people come and go within the adult writing group for example, and life gets in the way for them. Busy jobs, young children; there just isn’t enough time and energy for writing. I’m always offering advice and tips on making the time and sticking with the discipline needed. The next biggest one is self-doubt, I think. People have a story in their heads but don’t think they can do it justice. I think all writers suffer from self-doubt to some degree. It comes and goes and you are constantly battling with it and trying to drown out the self-criticism. The other hurdle I think is other people. Sometimes because they are the reason you are busy and tired, and don’t think you deserve to devote time to writing…and sometimes because people look down on it, tell you it’s a waste of time, not a real job and so on. I know this happens to a lot of writers and I had to put up with that myself when young. I want to encourage people to do it anyway!
Tell us a little about the Chasing Driftwood group and the writers who are part of the group and the services you offer to adults and children.
The adult writing group is quite small at the moment as several of the long- termers cannot or do not want to do it via Zoom, which I perfectly understand. We used to meet in a community hall where we had a cosy room all to ourselves every other Monday evening. The group varies in size between three to five people, or seven to ten. People do come and go, as life gets busier and they get less time to write, but there are a few who have been with us for several years now. Some have gone on to finish novels they are now trying to find publication for and some have written novels and gone on to secure publishing deals. They are a real mix of people, genders and ages, and I don’t think they will mind me saying that we are probably all classic introverts! The group is running monthly at the moment via Zoom, using more of a workshop style format to get them writing, as many of them have really suffered with the pandemic and not being able to write. As well as the adult group, we offer adult workshops. These used to be in venues such as halls and libraries, but are currently via Zoom. For children, again we had after-school clubs but cannot go into schools right now because of Covid, so these are all on Zoom. We also have three clubs for home-educated children, and online courses for children
Has it been more difficult and challenging to manage the group throughout the pandemic?
Yes, definitely. During the first lockdown a year ago, I didn’t do anything. I was so shocked and scared and so concerned with helping my children through it, I just couldn’t get my head around the writing groups carrying on. I knew there was Zoom and Skype and all sorts, but I just couldn’t do it. I stayed in contact as much as possible via email and I set challenges and prompts on the Facebook page but that was all I could manage. I felt really sad and scared that I would lose my business by not moving it online, but at the same time, I just didn’t seem to have the emotional energy needed to keep it going. That all changed once the kids started going back to school. I finally had the time to organise myself, set up Zoom and try it out and it all took off quite well. Now I am really pleased we have so much online and we will always offer online workshops, courses and clubs now, even when we can return to physical ones. When we had the latest lockdown and school closures again, I managed to work through it this time, juggling my clubs etc with home-schooling! It was tough, but we managed.
I’ve read The Mess of Me which I’ve been meaning to read for some time. I knew I would like it! From your writing style, I get a sense that you are a character driven writer. This is also apparent in the chosen name of your blog The Glorious Outsiders. What a great name for a blog! How did you decide upon the names of your books/blog? Would you agree that you are a character driven writer? And why?
Thank you! The name for the blog came from my characters. When I first set up a blog, I had not published anything and just used it to share snippets on. I then picked up a few tips from another writer about rebranding the blog, making it speak for you, letting people know who you are and what you do. I thought about my characters and realised that all of them are outsiders in some way, and none of them really care that they are. The Glorious Outsiders seemed perfectly apt for them and for me. The names of my books have come from various places. Some come to me really quickly, even before I’ve written the books, for example, The Tree Of Rebels and Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature. The Boy With The Thorn In His side came when I was half way through writing the first book and I realised that for me at least, the lyrics of that song by The Smiths really made sense for the story. This Is Nowhere comes from a Neil Young song called Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere. The story offered the title up as one of the characters played Neil Young records, so of course I had to play Neil Young while I was writing it and when I listened to the lyrics of that song, I knew I had a perfect title. And yes, I would agree that I am very much a character driven writer. It’s always characters that come to me first, and they start talking about their lives and worlds and problems and then eventually a plot comes from that! I love creating characters, it’s so much fun, and with reading too, I am much more drawn to character driven stories.
I believe you’re working on a new project, a supernatural YA series with co-author Sim Sansford. What’s the process of writing a novel together.How does this work and would you recommend it?
Yes, I never, ever thought I would write with another author! I’ve read books by others who have tried this and was in complete awe as to how they achieved it. I’m quite a control freak about my own writing, my style and choices and characters, so I didn’t think I would ever be able to co-write something. Sim became my business partner in November 2020 and brought to the company exactly what I needed: an injection of youth, enthusiasm and ideas! It’s brilliant to have someone to bounce ideas off and to share the workload. We got on really well with it, so when he suggested writing something together my instant reaction was, why not? I had no idea how it would work or where it would go. Sim had a loose idea and we decided to write it in first person from alternating character points of view. He created a character called Darcie Duffield and I created JJ Carson. We knew it would be a supernatural/super abilities style story and again, this was something I had never imagined I would write, but it has gone so well. We finished book one in about six weeks I think and rolled straight into book two, which we have just finished! We have started to edit book one and have ideas to start book three. It worked by one of us writing a chapter, sending it to the other, then they responded with theirs and so on. We message lots throughout the day with ideas and questions and somehow it has just worked out! It’s been really exciting and fun and I would definitely recommend if you can find the right author to work alongside.
What does the future hold for Chasing Driftwood?
Hopefully, we will continue to grow. At the moment, I feel like we are putting lots of things in place that will benefit the CIC later on. So there is a lot of unpaid work going on right now as we work towards future goals. We have set up copy-editing and proofreading services to compliment the writer’s groups, workshops and courses. We intend to keep adding new online courses to the site for adults and children. We are putting together our first collection and it will be the first thing we publish under Chasing Driftwood. It’s a pandemic themed collection we hope to have ready by the start of the summer. It will be testing the water really as we would love to evolve the CIC into an indie press at some point. Again, we might cut our teeth on this idea by publishing our co-written series with Chasing Driftwood, but it is early days, so we will see! We have other projects in the line for when covid finally frees us all…A nature-based project for young writers and a community writing project among others.
It is my pleasure to welcome Tracie Barton Barrett to my blog today. Tracie and I connected during the initial stages of the pandemic. She contributed a piece about the impact of isolation in the anthology compilation, This Is Lockdown, which is available to buy on Amazon.
Since then, we have become friends, so I thought it would be nice to invite her over to my blog for a chit chat!
Here’s the Q and A:
What inspired you to write this particular story? As an animal lover, particularly a horse lover since birth, I’ve always wanted to write a book celebrating these magnificent beings. My hope in writing FINDING HER SPIRIT is to tell the story of Maren Markey while telling the story of many horse lovers. My blog entitled, “Why Did You Write a Horse Book,”https://whydidyouwriteahorsebook.blogspot.com/
My hope in creating BURIED DEEP IN OUR HEARTS was to celebrate our important bond with our animals and honor their memory.
What advice would you give new authors? There is soooooo much to learn and this is a marathon, not a sprint. Marketing will make up a bigger part of what you do than you think (or want). Join a group of fellow authors. Writing can be isolating and connecting with others who understand can make all the difference! Know there will be ups and downs–times when you feel happy about your work and other times when you feel you couldn’t construct an even simple sentence. There will be people you think might buy your book who don’t. Conversely, there will be people who you never thought in a million years would be interested who will! And, I’ll say it again, there is sooooo much to learn and this is a marathon, not a sprint.
Do you have any pets? Yes, we have two cats, Oliver Monkey and Bubby. They are our two furry boys and definitely run the household. We just pay the mortgage.
Where do you write? Do you have any special routines? Sometimes I’m in my office, dining room table, and sometimes I’m outside or at the library. Sometimes I’m sitting in my chair in the bedroom, and sometimes on the floor. Just depends! I don’t write for a book everyday, but I’ve journaled every morning for about 29 years. I think it helps get the juices flowing. But, it’s amazing, it seems as though the day isn’t complete if I don’t journal, and I almost feel “backed up” when I don’t!
Are you a plotter or a pantser? I’m more of a plotter. However, for FINDING HER SPIRIT, I began writing before I knew the ending. With BURIED DEEP IN OUR HEARTS, I knew the ending before any of the other parts of the book. Finish this sentence: This Igloo is something I built when I was young living in Michigan. Although I generally dislike the cold, I have good memories of building it.
“Tracie Barton-Barrett has done something remarkable with this lovely book. She’s captured the essence of childhood dreams.1. “Which of us hasn’t had a dream of something that seemed unattainable as a child? Whether it was a pony or a puppy or just to have a best friend, we’ve all been there. Barton-Barrett’s Maren navigates a difficult childhood fraught with adult problems like divorce and mental illness and “normal” kid problems like loneliness and the school cafeteria. Yet Maren never gives up on her dream of owning a horse of her own and when one avenue fails her, she finds another one.This is a beautiful, heartening story of resilience for all ages, but especially horse-loving girls.”–Michelle Flye, author of HOURGLASS.
“Tracie Barton-Barrett, author of Buried Deep in our Hearts, has done it again. She reminds us of the gifts available when we open ourselves to the unconditional love of animals. In Finding Her Spirit, a beautiful coming of age story, Maren’s love of horses is a touchstone that helps her navigate her adolescent and teenage years. Not only does she have the normal challenges like a friend’s betrayal and young love, she’s also adjusting to a blended family and the mental illness of her father, whom she adores. Though all this, Maren finds solace and strength from her relationships with horses. Finding her Spirit reawakened my own childhood love of horses and had me cheering for Maren as she discovers her authenticity and resilience.” –Heather W. Cobham, award-winning author of THE MOTHER TREE
Bio: Since I was en utero, animals have had my heart and my husband and I are currently owned by our two cats, Oliver Monkey and Bubby. As a Licensed Clinical Professional Mental Health Counselor with a specialty in pet loss, workshop facilitator, and former psychology instructor, my life’s work has been to honor this important bond with these fabulous beings. My first novel, BURIED DEEP IN OUR HEARTS, was written to help celebrate this bond and honor their memory. When not writing, I’m an advocate for other Indie authors, traveling, hiking, enjoying the outside, dancing, singing to music in the car, playing the piano, or watching movies and TV, particularly quoting “Friends,” and “The Golden Girls.”
Blurb for FINDING HER SPIRIT: Packing for college in 1991, Maren Markey stumbles upon her old diary. Reliving moments from her past, she remembers weekend visits with her Daddy after her parents’ divorce, struggles with her new stepfamily, a new friendship, romantic interests, and a strong connection with a special horse. Through it all, Maren’s deep love for horses serves as a constant lifeline in her ever-changing life. Join the ride as Maren finds her Spirit.
Welcome to Kyrosmagica! It is wonderful to have you over for a chit chat, Sally.
Lovely to be here Marjorie and thank you for the invitation.
MJ: I’m delighted to be reading Life is Like A Bowl of Cherries, Sally, the title is so beguiling, particularly as I do love fruit, and cherries are a favourite!
MJ:Sally,I’d love to hear more about your nomadic life. I believe you have lived in many countries. Which of these places has a special place in your heart and why?
My father was in the Royal Navy and was posted overseas several times. On occasion we were able to travel with him as a family, including my first trip at age 18 months to Ceylon (Sri Lanka). The first year was documented in photographs and I don’t really remember as I was too young, but certainly by the time I was three I was aware of my surroundings and the people in my life. We lived in a house on the edge of the jungle and we had a cook and an amah or nanny for me. My two sisters were 13 and 14 by this time and when they came back from school I was handed over to them. Anything they did I did too, and I was swimming every day in my rubber ring which I loved and still do today, but without the rubber ring!! On one memorable occasion, I followed my eldest sister up a steep ladder during a diving competition. She completed her dive and surfaced expecting applause to find a stunned silence and groans from the crowd. I had crawled to the end of the diving board, stood up and jumped off. Apparently I surfaced and told my sister ‘again’.
After Sri Lanka we returned to the UK for two years followed by two years in Malta which were amazing, and after another two years in England we moved to South Africa. My memories of our time in Cape Town are very vivid as I was ten years old by this time and well aware of the situation at that time with apartheid for example. As a family we had to attend an induction day so that we knew what we could say and what the rules were for segregation. I found it very difficult as I had friends at school in England from the West Indies and the Middle East and it felt very uncomfortable being unable to be friends with anyone because of their colour.
David and I have lived and worked in several countries over the last forty years and certainly our experiences, and the people we have met, have provided us with amazing memories. As a writer all of my travels have left me with memories that are wonderful to dip into and use for stories.
They say that ‘home is where the heart is’, and for me that is certainly the case, and wherever we might be living, as long as David and I are under the same roof it is a special place.
MJ: Oh, how lovely.
MJ:Writing short stories and poetry takes a special skill. Can you summarise the way you approach writing them – any rituals you have, or methods you use?
The stories start out life a great deal longer than they end up. I tend to write in my head first when walking or exercising, then come back and dash it out on the computer. I spend a lot of time revising and editing down to a point where I feel it reads aloud well. And I always ask myself, would I enjoy if I read the story for the first time.
I tend to stick to the Japanese poetry which is constrained by the number of syllables. I love the various formats and experiment depending on the theme. After the first draft, I usually end up changing the words within a certain syllable count to find the one that expresses the most action or emotion.
With everything I write, I use David as a sounding board and he is brilliant with suggestions that might enhance or improve the piece.
MJ: You feature so many authors on your wonderful blog Smorgasbord. This must be a labour of love as I’m sure it must take up so much of your time. As an indie author you give so much to the community in features, reviews and the like. How do you manage your time? And do you ever feel overwhelmed?
One of the key elements I learned early on in my management career was project planning and this was vital when dealing with major construction, installation or sales and marketing campaigns. I carried this over to when I was running my own business for the next twelve years and then as a blogger.
For me blogging is a full time occupation and a business despite the blog itself not being monetised. I am an indie author with 14 books to sell and nobody else is going to do that for me. With 20,000 new titles added to the shelves on Amazon each week, it is tough to get noticed, particularly in the popular genres.
Twenty years ago I was helping authors get their books noticed in a very different way with book launches, radio interviews, press releases and my own first book got some great publicity nationally. However, it is very different now, and the focus is on local physical marketing and global online promotion.
As an author of six books in 2012, I needed a platform to market my own books and that involved creating an online presence across other areas of social media. I began building Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn systematically over the years. I don’t belong to any other social media because as you say, it is time consuming to maintain, and these three are the most consistent referrers of visitors to the blog after WordPress Reader.
I had a project plan in place to achieve my vision of how I wanted the blog to develop. To market my own books, I felt that the content on the blog needed to appeal to a varied market. I set out to develop a magazine style platform with a number of topics. I began with health which I have been involved in for over fifteen years by that time, and slowly added the other areas I have been involved such as book marketing, music and humour as the followers and my confidence grew.
After three years I felt that there was a strong enough following to offer free book marketing to other authors, which is when the Café and Bookstore came into existence. There are now over 150 author promotions, two book fairs featuring all the authors in the Café, and around 50 individual author spotlights a year. My hope is that I can help in some small way to showcase an author and their work within our writing community, whilst also promoting my own.
As to finding the time to post in the way I do… I always schedule ahead by at least a week and usually two. In the case of a series I schedule all the posts at one time. This creates time for me to maintain social media, spend time on my own writing projects, and read and review books.
The project plan is not completed, and in the blog’s 9 th year I hope to continue to find new ways to get all of us noticed and sell some books.
MJ: You are an inspiration, what a wonderful goal.
MJ: The title of your latest release: Life Is Like A Bowl of Cherries. How did you choose the title and what were you trying to convey?
My life experience has been one of highs and lows as is the case for so many people. The reason I appreciate what I have right now, is because of the tough times in the past. Nobody has a perfect life and that is what makes it so fascinating. I wanted to reflect this in the stories I write, but I try to end each of them with a hopeful outcome.
As to the name of the collection…I bought a punnet of cherries last year and could not believe how they looked the same but some were bitter and some were sweet. When I was looking for a title it came to mind.
MJ: That’s so cute!
MJ: After eight years blogging what advice would you impart to new bloggers starting their blogging journey?
Everybody has a different reason for beginning their blogs and there is no right or wrong way to go about it. I do dislike the term Hobby Blogger which is used for anyone who does not commercialise their blog. Whether it is one blog a week, one a day or more, it takes time to prepare, format and market. Various skills are required and whilst it should be enjoyable, it takes work, not just to create the posts, but to get noticed.
I do suggest that anyone thinking about blogging visit a load of other blogs first to get a feel of what is out there, the format, the response in terms of followers and comments. That is usually a solid indicator that people enjoy the content.
A good place to start with your own blog is with your passions, which might be cooking, music, writing, etc. Start with one blog a week and sprinkle with some reblogs of other people’s posts that you are following and enjoy. They will appreciate the gesture and return the favour.
Follow and comment on other blogs and share on social media by clicking one of the buttons at the end of the post. Just saying ‘I enjoyed that thank you’ with your name is very welcome. One thing I do suggest is that you don’t put the URL of your blog in the comment as that should come up with your name, and most blogs block comments containing URLs.
Follow bloggers you enjoy on Twitter and Facebook and retweet their pinned tweets…and if you are an author this is particularly important. I do have a pdf of Book Marketing for authors, including set up for blog and social media and if anyone would like a copy then they just need to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
MJ: Has your writing mojo stayed the same during this unprecedented time of covid?
Like all of us we have had to adjust to several lockdowns and still having to get on with life in the most hopeful way possible. I felt it was very important for my own wellbeing to ensure that the blog continued as normal during the year. More than ever being online and staying in contact was crucial, and authors were still writing books that needed to be marketed. Music and laughter are important in my life, particularly at the moment, so there was no thought of not carrying on as usual.
MJ:You live in Ireland now, what made you settle there? And do you ever see yourself moving?
My husband is Irish and despite leaving for work when he was 18 years old we have visited family regularly and lived here for five years in the mid-1990s. We loved living just outside of Madrid and periodically on the south coast of Spain for my time on radio, but we got to our mid-60s and felt that it would be a good idea to return to Ireland. We are in good health but even if you are relatively fluent in a language you would still find it difficult coping with illness, or possibly being left on your own to cope with it.
It has been nearly five years now and I miss our friends and the sunshine, having swapped 300 days of blue skies for 300 days of rain! But the warmth of the people here certainly makes up for that. Additionally this last year, there has been a sense of feeling less exposed as we live in a rural area on the coast. Without the usual holidaymakers arriving from Dublin this summer, the incidence of the virus has been much less than it has been elsewhere in Ireland and in the UK. Obviously we are sorry for all the small businesses dependent on this annual influx but it is better to be safe than sorry.
We love our house which took four years to renovate, with some work is still needed in the garden, which is weather dependent. There is enough room to move in some help as we get older, as neither of us are care home material…so the answer is we probably are here for the duration! For the time being lol…
Thank you again Marjorie for inviting me over and I hope that I didn’t outstay my welcome… I do love to chat… Happy 2021 everyone.
Excerpt from The Scratch Card
Elsie Thompson attended the morning service at St. Cuthbert’s and dropped in to the coffee morning in the church Hall to catch up on the gossip in the parish from the last week. She also wanted to share the good news with her friends that she had won twenty pounds on a scratch card the day before, and she had four crisp five pound notes in her purse to prove it.
Mr. Singh the owner of the corner shop where she always bought her tickets, had beamed at her as he handed over the cash and commented it would not take her far sadly. She laughed and spent one of the fivers on another card, in the hopes another win might get her somewhere with a lot more sunshine than Liverpool. To be honest, even enough for a day out in Southport would be lovely for the both of them, and her husband Frank would enjoy a stroll down Lord’s Street, and she would treat him to a posh tea at the Prince of Wales hotel.
Elsie paid for five cups of coffee and a biscuit for herself and her four friends with one of the remaining fivers, and they sat in a corner happily sharing their news and plans for the following week. It was money well spent, and an hour later, Elsie walked home to get the roast lunch prepared, looking forward to their son Tom’s monthly visit with his wife Steph and their two boys.
As she crossed the main road, she saw a young lad sitting on the pavement outside a closed charity shop, he was playing the guitar, and at the moment the only audience seemed to be his dog leaning up against his shoulder. Elsie paused in her mental preparation of the roast pork with crackling, roast potatoes, carrots, cauliflower cheese and peas, followed by apple pie and custard. The boy’s face was pinched, and he shivered in the cold breeze that had picked up in the last couple of hours. His music was actually not half bad, and he had a nice voice, which drew her closer to hear more clearly. He smiled in recognition of her attention and the dog stood up and wagged its tail.
Elsie looked into the open guitar case and saw a few coppers were strategically scattered to entice further contributions. She had appreciated her own little bit of luck, and a few shillings wouldn’t be missed. She took her purse out of her handbag, opened it and realised she only had some pennies. Shaking her head she pulled out one of the remaining two five pound notes and tucked it beneath some of the coppers to stop it flying away. She looked up into the boy’s face when he suddenly stopped singing and saw tears running down his face into his dirty scarf.
MJ: I’ve read this story and it is one of my favourites!
Sally Cronin is the author of fourteen non-fiction and fiction books published over the last twenty years. After a nomadic life living and working around the world, she and her husband now live on the Wexford coast in Ireland. As an indie author she began blogging seven years ago as a way to promote her own books and then created The Cafe and Bookstore to promote other authors and their work. Smorgasbord Blog Magazine is also home to health, food, music, life stories, poetry and humour.
Latest book: Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries, Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet