Saturday, 3 April 2021

Lockdown Book Blog finale

Over the last three months, I’ve been writing weekly book reviews on this blog and sharing them on social media. Now spring's here, today’s post takes a final walk through the project.
 

Lockdown Isolation

My experience of lockdown started in October, when a rule change meant we were to stay local. My family is scattered across five local authority areas, so this meant no contact apart from through the godsend that is telecommunications. (Thank you, Skype and Whatsapp!)

Normal routines were cancelled. No babysitting, no gym, no Fitsteps, no Ramblers. Just empty days. I needed a project. First, I dug out all my leftover wool. Over the next two months I crocheted two very simple round blankets (andblogged about it). But two blankets were enough!

What Next?

I’ve always been involved with books and writing. My first career was as a librarian, during which time I regularly wrote book reviews for the local paper. Years later, after I’d left my library days behind and had established myself as a writer and creative writing teacher, I wrote reviews for London-based UK reading charity Booktrust and for the Inverness-based literary magazine Northwords Now. I was part of the people’s reading panel and jury for the first and second Guardian First Book Award competitions. The Glasgow panel met in Borders Book Shop. We read and discussed the six short-listed books, then had a jolly to London for the award ceremony. In 1999, the winner was Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, about the conflict in Rwanda. In 2000, Zadie Smith’s novel White Teeth won the prize https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/07/guardian-first-book-award-all-the-winners  

In autumn 2020, I was a volunteer reader for the Highland Book Prize, the winner of which will be announced at the Ullapool Book Festival in May. Here’s the shortlist http://www.highlandbookprize.org.uk/2020-shortlist/

So, with my ongoing interest in books and reviewing, what better occupation through the cold and dark of winter than reading books and blogging about them? But what books would I review? 

Incunabulum

What Books To Review?

I’m what’s called a ‘hybrid’ author. I co-wrote Eileen Munro’s memoir As I Lay Me Down To Sleep, which was published in 2008 and became a Scottish bestseller. The ebook version still sells over a thousand copies a year. https://www.penguin.co.uk/authors/1060956/carol-mckay.html My short fiction and poetry are widely published and have won awards, but despite this, I haven’t found publishers for my novels. This is a cause of enormous frustration. And life is short. So I decided to self-publish my novel Incunabulum, which is set in Scotland in the aftermath of a cataclysmic pandemic. My husband Keith (He Who Is Tech-savvy) published it for me through his imprint PotHole Press. It was well received and had generous reviews, including this one on Northwords Now and subsequently one by Gillean Somerville-Arjat in her column in the Scottish Review.

Second Chances

Self-published and indie

There can be many reasons why people go down the self-publishing route. It’s gruelling, approaching agent after agent, or publisher after publisher, waiting months for a response that may never arrive. And if an agent says no, does it mean the book is no good, or just not to their taste? Or not what they think the market is looking for at this moment? Professional publishers have to make a living, and so do agents, so if they think your book won’t sell enough copies, they won’t invest their time and money in it. Obviously. It doesn’t mean your book is badly written. Just not sufficiently commercial. Or not transformative or ground-breaking enough to win prizes, which of course would make the book commercially successful.

Some writers decide from the outset to self-publish. They go into the process with their eyes open, seeing their work as a commercial brand and cutting out the middle people. And some just want to document their life experience and leave their writing as a legacy for their children, thereby also making their individual contribution to human culture.

Self-publishing – ‘privately printed’ – has a long tradition. Beatrix Potter, Ezra Pound, WH Auden all did it, and others were like Robert Burns. He couldn't afford to pay the costs, so his Kilmarnock edition of Poems Chiefly in the Scots Dialect was privately printed thanks to 18th century version of crowdfunding (‘subscription’). https://www.electricscotland.com/familytree/frank/burns_lives152.htm




My Lockdown Book Blog Authors

One problem with self-publishing is visibility. It’s hard to bring your work to the attention of readers when you don’t have a team behind you. So I decided to focus my lockdown book blog on works that were self-published. I posted on Facebook and soon had a dozen authors getting in touch. They’d give me a copy of their book and in return I would do a blog post which we could share. With there being twelve (plus me), there could be a snowball effect in terms of promotion. It’s said you have to see something seven times before it pierces your consciousness enough for you to truly notice it. The more we could bring the books to people’s attention the better. Without irritating them! I did have another few people approach me to review their books, but I really couldn’t fit any more in. So, we were all set! Twelve authors – twelve weeks.

    

So How Did It Go?

The entire project has been really worthwhile – for me, at least! I hope so for the authors, too. Sales may not have rocketed, but each week my blog had an average of 80 – 85 hits. That’s people clicking through via links on social media to read the blog post. I counted that average after removing the two big hitters – one of which reached 250. That result came about because the author played a major part of a big, new writers' group on social media, she reckoned.

  

Seeing other authors' techniques in marketing was truly interesting. I didn't apply myself sufficiently to learn Canva (for promotional graphics) and I didn't master hashtags, though I recommend both. But I did investigate them (for next time?) and I did find out about the existence of a self-publishing and marketing platform called Blurb. Above all, from this small sample, I discovered that sometimes it matters if you network a lot, but sometimes it doesn't matter a jot. What seems most effective is having depth of contact with individuals, rather than a froth of marketing confetti.



 
       

I chose to disregard some presentational issues as self-publishers don’t have a team of editors behind them. At the outset, I told the authors I would only review their books if I felt they merited at least three stars (out of five), and I’m happy to say they all did - and some far more! Each had something unique to say. All had plausible plots, sympathetic characterisation, and expressed something fresh and original – even those that were written to conform to genre conventions, such as crime novels.

I reviewed picture books and one aimed at young adults. I reviewed collections of short stories. I even – and this was a first for me – dabbled with erotic and gay paranormal fiction.

I may have spent three months in a comfy seat, but each and every one of these books took me travelling. Whether that was to the towns and villages of Ghana or the giddying steel and concrete canyons of New York, whether it was Estonia’s shoreline or the one at Portobello, I enjoyed the journey and the experience. Through these books, I’ve been to New Orleans, the Scottish highlands and islands, the tourist streets of Lisbon, a mysterious English garden, family houses in Cheltenham and California’s movie capital, LA. And I couldn’t forget Glasgow’s very own downtown Saltmarket.

  


Thanks

So, my sincere thanks go to authors Aaron Mullins, Jacqueline SmithEmily Donoho, Fiona Curlew, Lorraine Johnston, GilleanSomerville-Arjat, Fiona Glass, Brian Pendreigh, Raven McAllan, Lea Taylor, PatFeehan and Sandra Davies

Do scroll through my previous blog posts to read about them.


 




Friday, 26 March 2021

Sandra Davies - Drink with a Dead Man

A labyrinthine novel about the sex-trade and its devious and self-serving financial backers, Sandra Davies’ Drink with a Dead Man is also about the fractures and bonds between long-time friends weighed down with guilty secrets. If you relish whodunnits and whydunnits, and tangled plot puzzles to unravel, this is definitely a novel for you.

Welcome to my final lockdown book blog! 

Drink with a Dead Man

Extract

Exiting the county, his train having slowed to cross the Tweed at Berwick via the multi-arched bridge, Del texted Arch: Northumberland St available to stay in?

Arch’s reply was immediate: Suite reserved @Howard. King St. ABCD Mathers @9

Del checked the hotel. Five stars, discreet. Looked good. He checked again, asking whether Arch really meant ABCD? Meant all of them?

Arch succinctly did.

And yes, on arrival the hotel as pleasing as its website.

Less pleasing, because incomprehensible, was the envelope handed to him as he checked in. It contained a half sheet of paper on which had been typed an address in Portobello.

First thought, it had come from Arch, surely the only person who knew his whereabouts? Then, re-reading, it occurred to him Arch had likely booked the others in here as well. Though didn’t Baz live in Edinburgh? Possibly his was the Portobello address. No idea – obviously! – where Chris was travelling from.

Arch was no longer responding to messages.

(p.201)

Review

Kit Talamantes is ultra-cool, ultra-confident, ultra-handsome: a ladies man through and through. The novel opens with a scene from his very comfortable life in Spain, which an anonymously sent sliver of newsprint threatens to disrupt. The newsprint – an announcement of a forthcoming wedding – forces him to jettison the idyll of the artificial identity he has created for himself and head back to England to work out who knows his secret.

What follows is a standard police procedural yet so much more. Drink with a Dead Man drops the reader into the centre of a pre-existing web of intrigue and a complex network of friendships with overlapping layers and subtleties. Over the course of the first few chapters, we become acquainted with a group of characters who shared a house at university, despite being from very different social circumstances. We pick up hints about their very human mix of trust and mistrust of each other, tolerance and intolerance, love and understanding. Well over a decade later they’re established in their careers – the upper class male model, the earthy Scots ex-navy man, the earnest and loyal journalist, the morally questionable Kit Talamantes, and – oh yes, Lucy, the high-class call girl, who selected them as housemates and for whom they played a not-unwilling part in her self-directed apprenticeship. 

Not having read the earlier books in the series meant I had to work quite hard at the beginning to commit to memory everyone in this big cast of characters. The author also has a certain syntactical style I learned to tune my ear to. The intrigue soon had its hooks in me and I grew more and more eager to unravel all the clues as to who had done what to whom. And why. Drink with a Dead Man is undoubtedly a novel on the dark side. It features blackmail, double-dealing, the sex-trade and other forms of devious criminality. It also centres on a murder. Actually, two murders.

Thematically dark, but it's hallmarked by sensitive character profiling which ensures we care about these characters. Sandra Davies' writing demonstrates her enormous empathy and understanding in the way she presents the spoken – and most particularly the unspoken – communication between the core characters and their interpretation of others’ inner turmoil. This was evident in the police interrogation scenes, marking them out, for me, as far from genre convention stereotyped.

As Sir Walter Scott put it, ‘O what a tangled web we weave, When first we practise to deceive.’ In Drink with a Dead Man, Sandra Davies sets her readers a multi-stranded puzzle that has us craving to untangle the knots, and ultimately finding the satisfaction of doing so. 

Author Sandra Davies
Q&A

CMcK: Hello Sandra. Thank you so much for joining me on my lockdown book blog. I’m full of admiration! My first question has to be – how on earth do you manage to dream up such multi-layered plots? Seriously – do you have a big white-board or computer file? How do you keep track of everything and judge how to drip-feed enough information to keep your readers’ brains whizzing?

SD: Thank you Carol – I'm delighted to be here for my first-ever independent review.  Plotting is something I really struggle with because I do rely to a large extent on my characters telling me what next. A timeline is essential, and it does help to have the previous one unpublished so I can make retrospective tweaks. Sympathetic and eagle-eyed beta readers are worth their weight in gold.

CMcK: This is the fourth novel you’ve written featuring a central cast of characters. Where did this idea spring from?

SD:  'Step so grave', the first in the series, used plotlines and characters generated via an online challenge to supply an imaginary blurb to match a weekly-posted photograph of a book cover. Trying to stuff a cast of 40+ into half a dozen plots explains why it took eight years to knock it into shape. I then needed to write 'Longest shadows reach' to discover why there'd been a seventeen-year stand-off between Luke Darbyshere and Baz Rose. 'Commission & omission' examines what came next.

CMcK: That's fascinating. You must have got to know your main characters really well over the series. It strikes me that you keep a central core and then introduce new characters for each new storyline. Was this something you planned, or did it come about organically? I felt a strong connection to Baz and Arch, and also to Fran and Luke. Do you ever hanker after new storylines, leaving your central characters behind?   

SD: Having a free-standing story around which the doings of Luke and Baz intertwine is essential if I want each book to appear fresh, and work as a stand-alone. 'Drink with a dead man' is Arch's first appearance, but I've made room for him in 'Snap is not a children's game' by killing off one of my long-standing characters. I suspect the sixth – 20K in, plenty relationships and a murder victim, but no idea how she died – will be the last, which saddens me, especially as I've currently no replacement for them.

CMcK: What’s been most influential for you in your development as a writer? And who are your favourite authors?

SD: The encouragement of my peers, and copious amounts of reading! (I average 170 books a year) There are so many variations of excellence in crime writing, especially Scottish, Irish and Australian, that I couldn't choose even a dozen representatives, but Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond series will always be tops.

CMcK: Final question – where can we learn more about you and your writing?

SD: I have a blog: http://sandra-linesofcommunication.blogspot.com/  and a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/sandradavieswriter. My books are available from Blurb https://www.blurb.co.uk/user/SandraDavies?profile_preview=true. And you can also find me on https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1226042.Sandra_Davies 

I'm not on Amazon because I prefer to support Drake the bookshop, my local independent.

Sandra will gladly send a pdf of 'Step so grave' to everyone who requests one via this blog, so get in touch! 

Back cover text for 'Drink with a dead man'

Eight years ago Kit Talamantes faked his own death. When he receives notification of a wedding which cannot be allowed to proceed he has no choice but to return to England to correct mistakes made in his previous life. But who has summoned him? And why?

Similarly unexpectedly Edinburgh crime reporter Baz Rose hears of a proposed, and potentially problematic, reunion for four ex-uni friends who fled apart on graduation.

DI Luke Darbyshere receives a tip-off more interesting for its provenance than its content. In pursuing that he finds himself in professional conflict with the woman who, having given him six months to convince her they should marry, is struggling to solve a murder.

And Drew Bishop is determined on revenge.



 

 

Friday, 19 March 2021

Pat Feehan - Lucky Larry

Hapless Larry McAllister likes the quiet life. He’s fed up being the butt of his boss’s wrath and his wife’s ire. And that’s before the Glasgow hardmen get to him. To cap it all, he’s even getting hassled by the cops. Will Larry’s luck ever change?

On this penultimate week of my lockdown book blog, I’ve been reading and thoroughly enjoying Pat Feehan’s Glasgow-based crime novel Lucky Larry.

Lucky Larry
Extract

Larry sat open-mouthed. Could this be happening? The wheel game was obviously roulette. Arthur’s mum had wanted her son to play roulette and some card games. With her criminal background she’d clearly realised the money-spinning potential of her son’s unusual talents. But before she could put it to the test, she had died and now Larry could take on the role.

…Arthur saw it as a game, a game that he and his mother had wanted to play but that he never got the chance to try out. Well, Larry was the man who could take care of that. He realised his biscuit was still dipped in his tea. He attempted to raise it to his mouth but it collapsed into the cup in a soggy mess.

With a few encouraging nods and prompts from Larry, Arthur told him about his mum’s plan for the casino.

‘She thought we could make money because I’m good at numbers.’

Larry couldn’t believe his luck but did his best not to look too interested. ‘She was right. You definitely have a talent.’ He took a sip of his tea. ‘But casinos are big noisy places. You might feel a bit out of place there.’

Arthur looked anxious … Eventually, he blurted out the words Larry was waiting for. ‘Do you think you could take me to the casino?’

…An hour later Larry sat in a daze as he made his way home on the underground. He touched his hand to his jacket, opened it slightly and peered down into the large, inside pocket. There, peeping out at him, was the green jade Buddha. Larry’s luck was finally changing.

Review

Lucky Larry is a thoroughly enjoyable crime novel set in Glasgow. The mean streets may have long gone, but vestiges remain and Larry has to negotiate his way through.

Larry lost his job in the whisky bond after a case or two of malt disappeared, but his brother-in-law has given him a chance in his pet shop. Larry loathes it. The shop stinks, it’s always dead and he doesn’t know how his brother-in-law makes any money. Maybe that’s why he regularly goes ‘away on a wee bit of business’. Larry’s taking advantage of his absence to have a quick fag break at the shop back door when he realises a rabbit has escaped from the cage and is hopping off down the lane. As he tries to recapture it, Larry witnesses the local betting shop owner being beaten up and slashed by three vicious hardmen. When the same man is murdered two days later, the police want to know all about it.

Throughout this story, Larry gingerly picks his way with his wits through a landscape governed and controlled by two sets of hardmen. The first set is Eddie Black and his henchmen – organised crime heavies with interests in people trafficking, drugs and who knows what else. Happy to use violence to exert their authority. The other people that make Larry sweat and tremble when they push open the pet shop door are DS McNally and his sidekick DC Wallace.

All Larry wants is a bit of peace and quiet to be able to go for a pint now and then, as well as a bit of extra cash so he can treat his two kids whom he adores and who adore him in return. So, while he’s trying to keep everybody happy and off his back – the bad guys, the good guys, his wife who hen-pecks him and his brother-in-law who so disdains him – Larry is looking for a small-scale side-line of his own.

Maybe it’s strange to describe a crime novel as ‘thoroughly enjoyable’. Maybe ‘gripping’, ‘tense’, ‘edge of the seat’ and other epithets come to mind more frequently for this genre. There are plenty of tense moments in this novel, yet Pat Feehan has a gift for creating a character who would get a piece at any door. Translation – Larry’s really likeable. Even though he's thinking about cheating vulnerable Arthur now his mother’s died and left him on his own, and left a flat full of classy ornaments like that jade Buddha, which is so incredibly like the one that went missing from the Art Galleries.

Pat Feehan dovetails all the plot elements of this glorious tale into one great fit that’s wholly satisfying. He gives a nod to the conventions of the genre, situating and settling this story in the heart of Glasgow noir. At the same time, he maintains his own clear brand through characters that are surely going to become standards, and he does it with lively and one hundred percent engaging wit and humour.    

Author Pat Feehan

Q&A

CMcK: Pat, thank you so much for joining my blog to talk about your writing. I so enjoyed eavesdropping on Larry’s life! He’s totally three-dimensional, with so many contradictory, human, qualities. Despite his faults, he endeared himself to me. How did this fictional character introduce himself to you, the author?

PF: Hi Carol. I’m delighted to be here. Thanks for inviting me to be part of this. I wanted to write about a character who was a bit of a ‘chancer’, not averse to bending the rules but not fundamentally bad. I also wanted him to be slightly comic, with things rarely working out for him. I drew on similar characters from fiction and from people I’ve met in Glasgow. I’ve had many a pint and many a conversation with guys like Larry over the years.

CMcK: I felt as if I'd met Larry before, too! He's a brilliant character. What made you become a crime writer?

PF: I started writing eight years ago after signing up for creative writing classes.  I’ve always enjoyed reading various genres including non-fiction, but recently crime has been my favourite. So that seemed a natural choice. Crime fiction gives the reader, and the writer, the chance to experience the darker side of humanity, but from a safe distance. I think that’s a big part of its appeal. I also like crime writing that uses dark humour and was keen to try that out. However, I do enjoy writing in other genres and formats and one of my (non-crime) short stories was a finalist in the Scottish Arts Trust competition and appears in their anthology: https://www.storyawards.org/shortstoryfinalists2020

CMcK: This is your second novel, after Snap Judgement. Is there a third planned? Will we meet up with Larry again?

PF: I’ve just started sketching some scenes for a third novel. At the moment, Larry doesn’t feature in it. But it’s early days and you can never predict what Larry will get up to next! People have reacted very positively to Larry so we may well see more of his adventures.

CMcK: I'll look out for that! What took you down the self-publishing route?

PF: At each stage of my writing I’ve been finding out what I’m good at and what else I could try. The creative writing class focused on short fiction, I got positive feedback and people encouraged me to try a novel. One of the things I enjoy about writing is that you don’t need a complicated infrastructure: pen and paper, or a computer, and your imagination. There’s a great sense of independence. Once I’d decided to write a novel, I wanted people to be able to read it. I would have found it incredibly frustrating if I’d had to depend on someone else to give it the okay, especially if that took a long time, or never. So, self-publishing continued that sense of independence, giving me control over how and when my book would be available to readers and that was very liberating. 

Pat's first novel, Snap Judgement

CMcK: Are you in any writers’ groups?

PF: I’m in three groups and so get a wide range of support: tips on market opportunities or competitions, workshops with more experienced writers, sharing work-in-progress with other writers on a regular basis.  Getting feedback from other writers is incredibly valuable. But I also enjoy giving feedback, I think when you read and comment on someone else’s writing you learn so much that helps your own writing.

CMcK: Absolutely! Now, where can we find more information about you and your writing?

PF: I don’t have a website, though it’s on my ‘to do’ list. I’m on Facebook and Twitter and have an author page on Amazon.

https://www.facebook.com/pat.feehan.731/

https://twitter.com/pat_feehan

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Pat-Feehan/e/B07LDD4HJF?ref_=dbs_p_ebk_r00_abau_000000

CMcK: That's great! Thanks so much for joining me on my blog.

 

Friday, 12 March 2021

L Taylor - The House Beside the Cherry Tree

There are many different ways to be a mother. This way might not be the best.


I’m grateful to L Taylor – Lea – for an advance copy of her novel, which is being published by Scaramouche Press on March 21st 2021

The House Beside the Cherry Tree  

Extract

I would have given anything to sit at the big kitchen table nursing a strong cup of tea while Mum busied herself at the stove. … Without fail she dragged whatever problem that bothered me out into the open. … Together we’d scrutinise it and winkle out a solution with pointed questions, encouragement, reassurance and all topped off with a warm embrace. She was completely at my disposal, just like she was for all of the family.

And Dad, I couldn’t think of Mum without thinking of Dad. I could be stilled by his calming presence. There he’d be, sitting in ‘his’ chair in the corner of the kitchen, engrossed in The Times, muttering disgruntlements at the articles behind the pages. Identifying Dad’s moods was like reading semaphore. It was all in the way he held the paper. High signalled that he didn’t want to be bothered, half-mast meant he was listening in to what was going on, lowered meant that more than likely he was snoozing or very close to it. If only I had heeded his warnings. ‘Be careful with that one son – she’s not right.’ (p.218)

Review

The strapline for this novel is 'Motherhood doesn't come easy' - something this novel illustrates very well.

The year is 1959. Diane is a bright young thing – the light in her parents’ eyes, given the best of education, passionate about theatre, music and the arts – but just one clumsy fumble with local lad Richard has her unintentionally ‘in the family way’. Life as she knows it collapses. All her dreams for the future disintegrate. Her mother calls her a guttersnipe whore who’s brought disgrace on the family. It’s sobering to remember the attitudes towards single motherhood in those days, and Lea Taylor’s novel brings this smack into the present with her visceral portrayal of Diane’s abject humiliation and shame. Loss of dreams is a key motif throughout this novel, as both Diane and Richard are shoe-horned into doing what society expects of them. It’s a life that suits neither of them. A life that stifles and represses them. The tree in the garden that’s planted as such a sign of hope has the briefest of flowering seasons before the rot sets in.

The House Beside the Cherry Tree takes a brutal look at morality and convention in 1960s and 1970s Britain, but more fundamentally it looks at the impact on a woman’s mental health and the consequences for the child born into this dysfunctional family unit. By allowing each of the three main characters – Diane, Richard and their daughter Frankie – to tell their story in alternating chapters, we learn the harrowing details as experienced by each of them. There’s no doubt this is a challenging read. But there is lightness in it, too, in the love Frankie experiences from her temporary foster mother, in the boundless affection both Diane and Frankie have for the family dog, and in friendships that each of the main characters benefits from. Some interactions within the story are completely transformative, and this is where we find the joy in the novel. The House Beside the Cherry Tree conveys a message about the negativity and sterility of societal pressures on people, and the horrendous mental health treatments of the 1960s, but ultimately it’s a novel about the need for resilience and hope. 

The online launch for The House Beside the Cherry Tree is on Sunday 21st March 2021. Attendance is free! To book a place, go to https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/143121282609

Author L. Taylor

Q&A

CMcK: Hello Lea – thanks for joining me on my lockdown book blogging project, and for giving me advanced sighting of your novel. It’s due to be published very close to Mother’s Day, so I think I probably expected a sweet and cosy read. It’s anything but! Don’t get me wrong – it’s very readable! I was quickly drawn in. That cover image – all pink blossom and prettiness – is lovely, but you give us a very clear hint in the fracture in the wording of the title. Tell me about the background to writing this book. Where did the idea come from? What motivated you to write about this era?

LT: Hello Carol, firstly, thank you for inviting me to join your blogging project. It really is a pleasure.

The idea for the book came from a number of sources really.  Firstly, though, my mother suffered from mental ill-health in the 60’s when I was a child and I recall all the stigma associated with that, her preoccupation with anyone knowing, like it was a dirty secret. That in and of itself did cause issues within the family. So, I was curious about how mental health was viewed in that era but also, following the adage ‘write what you know,’ I put a little of my own experiences into the novel. Secondly a good friend of mine is a therapist and I recall the two of us discussing how a lot of her clients’ problems stemmed from how they had been mothered.

Setting the novel in the 60’s and 70’s gave me ample opportunity to consider both women’s rights and how little freedom they had back then– but also how people with mental health were medically treated.  Having done the research I had more than enough to write the book.

CMcK: One of the most gruelling aspects for me was your portrayal of mental health treatments in the 1960s. And the impact by extension on poor Frankie, who suffers terrible neglect and abuse. I don’t want to give the story away, but can you tell me something about this? Why was it important to you to write about this?

LT: Mental ill-health isn’t pretty and certainly back in the 60’s little was known about how to treat it. Being mentally ill then was both stigmatising, isolating and frightening, there were no holistic person-centred approaches. People with mental health issues were given either heavy duty medication or ECT (electro convulsive treatment). I didn’t want to put a sticking plaster on the story and paint a fluffly unrealistic picture of someone having a bit of a rough time. If it’s happening in a family unit everyone suffers. This isn’t an isolated situation relating to the 60’s and 70’s. It still happens today but fortunately there are far more checks and balances in place to help a struggling family. My years as a Community Worker have also shown me the uglier sides of mental health and its impact on family life.

CMcK: I couldn’t make my mind up about Richard. We hear so much negativity about him from Diane. And I started off loving Diane then gradually distanced myself from her, which is exactly what happened in the story – her family and friends abandoned her. As for Frankie – I think she was my favourite character, and I’d like to follow her to see how she gets on in her life after such a tough and loveless start. You created them all – is it possible for you to have a favourite? And might we meet up with Frankie again?

LT: Ha ha, yes, Frankie is spirited isn’t she and I’ll admit I enjoyed writing her the most.  Yes, we will be seeing more of Frankie.  I’m currently plotting the sequel, Frankie’s coming of age story. The working title is ‘Blossoms on the wind.’

CMcK: This is your first novel, but you’ve been in the writing business a good while, with an admirable track record. And you’re a storyteller, too. Tell me about your previous work and how you’ve found the expansion into long-form fiction.

LT: Storytelling and writing you would think are very similar creatures but actually they are entirely different crafts. With storytelling you are painting the picture through spoken word – you are telling the audience so that they can see the story in the mind’s eye and can use a number of different ways to enhance the story through tone, pace, gesture, facial expression and change of voice.  With writing it’s all down to what you write and how you show the story. Again, tone, pace and all the other subtle writing devices come into play but are used in a very different manner to storytelling. The expansion into long form fiction has been a huge learning curve. I’ve had to learn not to condense into short form writing but to expand and really drill down. But I have loved the process and as with storytelling, I have found my happy place writing.

CMcK: Where can we find out more about you and your writing?

LT: Through my publisher’s Facebook and Twitter pages;

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/scaramouchepressscotland/

Twitter: Scaramouche Press (@ScaramoucheP)

My own website: https://awaywithstories.co.uk

Twitter: Lea Taylor -author@leataylor5783

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lea.taylor.54

CMcK: Thanks so much for coming on my blog. All best wishes with your new book!

Other titles by Lea Taylor

Friday, 5 March 2021

Raven McAllan – Love by the Stroke of Midnight

This week, prolific author Raven McAllan joins my lockdown book blog with a special guest post that gives us a peek into the world of writing hot romance – one of several genres of highly commercial fiction she has established herself in.

First, Raven introduces herself and her writing process, then she tells us a list of Ten Things about herself and her new novel Love by the Stroke of Midnight. Set in Scotland at Samhain when the veil between this world and the spirit one is at its thinnest, this feelgood novel is romantic and witty, and quite a bit hotter than the Scotland we think we know and love. Warning – you might need to switch the aircon on before you read the extract! 

Love by the Stroke of Midnight

Raven Rambles on life and writing

When I was asked to write a blog, and I decided I’d do ten things about me and my writing process, I honestly didn’t think how hard it would be to find ten things that I thought were interesting.

After all, if I say my writing works better with coffee, biscuits and chocolate, that doing the ironing or changing the bedding is good—and justified—procrastination isn’t very exciting. It happens, but…you get the gist.

So, I sat down (with wine and chocolate…after all it was six pm) and had a think.

And realised that once we’ve moved house, my writing process will change.

I say will because we (the lovely husband and I) have been in rented accommodation whilst our new house is being built.

Whereas I used to write in my study overlooking the lawn, and a Scottish forest, the last few months it’s been at a table by the window, overlooking the garden of our rental near the Yorkshire coast. I’ve swapped seeing red squirrels for grey ones, woodpeckers for ringed doves, and sparrows for…sparrows. Oh and lots of seagulls.

Soon I’ll be writing in my new study, overlooking a new garden with fields beyond it.

I hope my creative juices still flow. (Urgh, that sounds nasty, but you know what I mean)

It’s not been east living out of boxes and inevitably things I could have done with are in storage. Mind you I made sure I had the basics. No not the biscuits and chocolate (I bought those from the local shop) but some reference books, plenty of notebooks (I’m a sucker for a nice notebook) pens, pencils, and coloured markers. Oh, and some books I’d earmarked to read for relaxation. And my eReader of course. What did I do before eReaders? (Filled a suitcase with books when I went on holiday and shoved half my clothes in the lovely husband’s suitcase).

None of which is really about my writing processes and my new book. 

However, ten true things...

Raven McAllan in Vietnam

1    I can write anywhere, and block noises, people and activity out. I used to get a lot of writing done on a long haul flight. The only interruptions are food, drink, and the inevitable…oohh, what are you writing.

2    I type two fingered.

3    I love research, but oh how easy it is to get distracted and end up with a lot of interesting facts, none of which relate to what I’m supposed to be researching.

4    Raven (and my other two alter egos Kera Faire, for darker romance, and Katy Lilley for romcom) were chosen, not because I didn’t want to use my own name, but because they help me get into the mind set for what I’m writing. Plus a Raven is the bringer of news and I saw one just before I got my first acceptance, and McAllan is a play on probably the best whisky in the world.

Raven McAllan writing as Kera Faire
5    I set a lot of books in Scotland, a, because it’s a great place to set stories that want atmosphere and, okay, midges and or rain in them.

6    The island where Love by the Stroke of Midnight is set, is based on an island on a loch near where we lived.

7   I have a great friend who is Wiccan and who helps me to get details about Samhain and other Wiccan and paranormal things correct.

8    Marcail is a Scots version of Margaret, which means Pearl and is important to the story.

9    Paden means royal.

10   The story mentions Wanaka in New Zealand where we were lucky enough to have a fabulous holiday, just before lockdown. The second book, which I’m half way through is Marcail’s brother, Baird’s story, and…*wink* well, you’ll need to wait and see.

 

Love By The Stroke of Midnight (Totally Bound publishing)

Blurb

History, family, fate. Accept it or deny it at your will.

The day you discover your boyfriend is using you as a free meal ticket—and a way to save his money—is the day you say bye-bye.

Marcail Drummond does better than that.

She sells up, plans the rest of her life and heads north. It’s time to go home, to a castle on an island in a Scottish loch, and face up to the fact she’s not quite the same as the rest of her family. They can see the past—and the future—and hear others. Heal the sick and help the broken-hearted.

She can’t.

After all, talking to yourself isn’t the same thing, even if one of the voices in your head is male and argues a lot.

As far as Marcail is concerned, it’s just her way of amusing herself.

To Paden, it’s more than that.

To him, it’s a matter of life and death.

 

A wee tease…

Marcail Drummond staggered out of bed, tired and sated, and wished she could sleep for a few hours more. As it wasn’t going to happen, she turned to speak to the man who had shared her night to…to what?

To see no second indent in the pillows. No crumpled sheets except where she’d slept—or not slept, as the case may be.

In fact no sign of any occupant—except herself.

She surely hadn’t imagined the night she’d just had? The sinfully sexy, hot, male, aroused body next to hers. The way his hands had caressed her so skilfully and held her close when she flew over the edge and into one of the best climaxes ever. How he’d gradually inched inside her, almost reverently, until she’d tightened herself around him and begged… “Please fill me now…please.” And he’d obliged so they could move together.

Then another climax, this time as he also came hard and fast, and the long gradual coming down to earth, held close and cherished.

The soft words in her ear… “Mo ghaol, it’s been oh so long…”

Marcail blinked. Had she dreamed it all, or…or what?

There couldn’t be any other explanation—could there?

Somewhat disgruntled, she stood up and stretched.

Boy she ached. Ached in places she hadn’t known it was possible. If that was what happened after an erotic dream, she wasn’t sure she’d have another one in a hurry.

“I’m here when you need me.”

That was the last thing she wanted. She had enough to worry about, without him niggling her. It was bad enough to know his voice was in her head—whoever he was—but surely he wasn’t in her dreams as well?

“You know I’m yours, however, wherever and…”

“Enough.” She put her hands to her hot cheeks. “Go away and let me get on in peace.”

“As ever, I’ll do your bidding.”

That’ll be the day. Marcail muttered under her breath, stripped the bed, got washed and dressed and headed out. She hadn’t the time to argue with herself, voices, or the man in the moon. Dammit, she hadn’t even seen his face.

“You’ll know me.”

Also from Raven McAllan

 

You can find me here…

my web (which includes my blog)

evernightpublishing

totallybound

www.twitter.com/ravenmcallan

https://www.facebook.com/KatyLilley.Author/

https://www.facebook.com/ravenmcallanandkerafaire/

Thanks so much for letting me pop by and ramble on,

Happy reading,

Love Raven xx 

 Raven McAllan writing as Katy Lilley

Friday, 26 February 2021

Brian Pendreigh - The Man in the Seventh Row

Why are we so obsessed with stars and the movies? It’s normal for children to play cowboys and Indians, but when does imagination stop?


I’m delighted to welcome Brian Pendreigh to this week’s lockdown book blog to talk about his engrossing novel which I thoroughly enjoyed - The Man in the Seventh Row and Related Stories of the Human Condition.

The Man in the Seventh Row

Extract

In ‘The Magnificent Seven’ Brynner and McQueen achieved immortality. They are Akira Kurosawa’s samurai knights relocated in the American West, with guns and horses and wistful talk of Dodge and Tombstone in the days before they became civilised. They are the embodiment of the legend, the myth, of the Wild West in corporeal form – not the way it was, but the way it should have been. … Most of all they are a couple of boys playing at cowboys and Indians. … They are gone now, but their ghosts illuminate the Chinese Theatre. Cinema is the gateway to immortality, the door to another dimension, to another state of being, another plane, life after death. Brynner and McQueen are dead, but every night, somewhere in the world, they still ride the range with the others in the Magnificent Seven.

Review

Roy Batty is obsessed with the movies. Since the age of four, he’s been mesmerised by the beam of light travelling across the darkened auditorium over the heads of the audience and exploding into life in glorious technicolour on the screen. Every year on family holidays to North Berwick, Roy has immersed himself in fantasy worlds. Westerns are the best. He imagines riding the prairie, shoot-outs at the OK corral, tipping his cowboy hat up off his face with one finger.

This is the background to Brian Pendreigh’s The Man in the Seventh Row. Roy Batty chooses to sit in the seventh row of any cinema he attends, whether that’s in one of the many picture houses in Edinburgh, or on those childhood seaside holidays, or, in adulthood, when he seizes the opportunity to live and work in Arizona and LA to be at the epicentre of the film world he adores.

The novel was originally subtitled ‘The Movie Lover’s Novel’, and this remains an excellent description. Brian Pendreigh weaves his story of Roy Batty the boy growing to manhood through the plots and storylines – the grand epic sweeps – of the blockbuster movies of the era. Sometimes the two are so tightly meshed it’s hard to separate real from imaginary.

What happens when you’re so obsessed that you begin to see your own features replacing the faces of the actors on the screen? Is it obsession? Or is Roy losing his grip on reality? This is the puzzle and the real plot in The Man in the Seventh Row, as the clues the author has seeded amongst all the film references and descriptions gradually grow in relevance and burst into life in a vivid flowering I can’t possibly mention because it would be the spoiler of all spoilers. Just trust me – the revelation is worth it. In a truly cinematic moment, it brings everything into focus and imbues this intelligent and often laugh-out-loud funny book with solid depth and resonance way beyond the make-believe movie world we’ve been caught up in. Layer upon layer. Because this book, too, is a work of fiction. Throughout, there’s a sense of loss at cinema closures – an era ending – and a yearning for worlds we just can’t have. 

The Man in the Seventh Row was lauded loudly by some of the giants of cinema, literature and the media when it came out with Blasted Heath almost a decade ago – Barry Norman, no less, Ian Rankin, Andrew Marr and others. Pendreigh has revived the novel by adding three related stories that stand alone yet also act as codas, intriguing us with further layers to ponder about Roy, about our grasp on reality, and that strange dream world of the movies that has such a grip on us.

Author Brian Pendreigh

Q&A

CMcK: Brian, thanks so much for joining me on my blog to talk about The Man in the Seventh Row, which stopped me with the popcorn half-way to my mouth. You have lots of non-fiction books about the movies to your name. I’d love to know a bit about that first, and what enticed you turn to fiction.

BP: The first two books were quiz books. My family always did quizzes. Back in the 1980s my uncle Jim Brunton and I both entered a primetime quiz show called Superscot without either knowing the other had entered. We both reached the final. We had a couple of months between recording and broadcast and multiple bulging notebooks of Scottish facts. I saw a chance to put them to good use, set up a deal with Lomond Books. The Scottish Quizbook came out the day after broadcast and we did a signing at Stockbridge Bookshop, with queues in the street. It made the Scottish bestsellers list.

I was originally a news journalist, but eventually specialised in film. My first film book was On Location: The Film Fan's Guide to Britain and Ireland. There was a gap in the market for an anecdotal guide for the general public and it was the first book of its type. I did a biography of Mel Gibson, having met him during Braveheart, and one on Ewan McGregor, which even got translated in Japanese.

However I always wanted to write a novel and I began work on The Man in the Seventh Row about 30 years ago. I always thought William Wallace was a great subject for a film and the origins of my novel, with its Wallace film references, predate Braveheart, a film on which I was involved from the writer's original idea to the actual Oscars. I was at Mel's party afterwards, but that is a whole other story. 

CMcK: Wow! That’s quite a story! When I write fiction, I imagine myself in the role of my characters, much as Roy Batty transposes himself into the characters on the screen. So I have to ask, do you get into the role of Roy Batty? And Yul Brynner? Where do you find your storylines and characters?

BP: Obviously some of the stories in the book are straight lifts from my childhood. I always say the incidental stuff is biographical, the major incidents are not - I have never been sucked into the movies, not literally. It was my intention to produce a book that would meld fact and fiction, memoir and magical realism, that would shift in tone and that ultimately would transcend the confines of the traditional novel, beginning with one set of characters in a novel-length story and end with another set in a different, but related story. 

CMcK: Your evocation of family holidays in small Scottish resorts utterly absorbed me and had me recollecting ways of life I’d completely forgotten. Yet one of the most immersive passages of your book is when teenager Roy challenges himself to take the dangerous route up The Law hill. I was Roy Batty while reading that, sharing that sensation of stinging fingertips. Why was it important to you to show Roy conquering the hill in the ‘real’ world?

BP: Well spotted. Firstly, this account is a genuine memory, which may explain why the passage is particularly convincing. Secondly, although these are literal roots – the words "root" and "roots" occur no fewer than ten times in that passage – I would be happy if readers were to conclude there may be a metaphor or two in there somewhere. I think a lot of it is of course subconscious. 

Getting to grips with hills and roots

CMcK: Did you ever consider writing this as a film script?

BP: No. I did some freelance work as a script consultant and did write a screenplay for a thriller and got as far as having an agent, a producer, casting talk and offices in Leith before it fell through. Film is like that. And TMITSR would be a huge challenge, not just in terms of technology, but in terms of legal rights to muck about with classic movies. When the original version came out I had an inquiry from an English producer, which came to nothing, and someone from Spielberg's company expressed interest, as in "That sounds interesting," nothing more. If anyone were to go anywhere with this in terms of film I reckon it could be Tarantino, though I do not know how you would accommodate the layers and nuances. The book Cloud Atlas is a masterpiece, the film is a confusing mess. It is not something I am pursuing.

CMcK: It’s nice to know books can still do things films can’t! What’s next for you and your writing? Where can we find out more about you and your work, and buy a copy of your books?

BP:  The next book is an update of The Legend of the Planet of the Apes, which I was asked to do specifically for the Brazilian market. It is currently being translated into Portuguese. It seems I am big in Brazil. I have no more plans for books. But then I always say that. I thoroughly enjoyed trawling through archives and pulling material together for The Times on Cinema, which is my only other book still currently in print. I am easily found on Google, Facebook and other social media under my own name. There is only one Brian Pendreigh. The book is available from Amazon as a paperback and ebook, as an ebook from Kobo, Smashwords etc, and as a paperback from Waterstones. It is in stock at Topping and Co and several other independent bookshops. Normally you would be able to order it from any bookshop in the UK, but I am not sure at present. And of course there is always eBay for everything old and new.

CMcK: Thanks, Brian! And thanks for supplying this link.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Man-Seventh-Row-Related-Condition/dp/B08J16N97R