Wednesday, 30 November 2016

My Publishing Journey ... with Lorraine Mace

By Gillian Hamer

Lorraine Mace is an author, columnist and editor. In addition to a critique and author mentoring service, she also hosts creative writing workshops in Spain. A former tutor for the Writers Bureau, she is co-author of The Writer’s ABC Checklist. She is the founder of the international writing competitions at Flash 500 (Novel Opening and Synopsis, Flash Fiction and Humour Verse). Writing as Frances di Plino, she is the author of Crooked Cat Publishing’s D. I. Paolo Storey crime thriller series. Book 5 is due for publication next year.

Here she discusses why she writes, and what she has learned on her journey to publication.

Welcome, Lorraine, you've had a long and varied writing career. First question ... why do you write?
I write because I have no other way of getting the voices out of my head! I don’t mean the demonic kind (although readers of my Frances di Plino crime series might argue that point). I mean the multitude of characters who are alive in my mind.
They have conversations, arguments, fall in love, fall out of love, kill, maim, heal, nurture, work at jobs they love and at those they hate. They live and breathe and in my head and if I don’t write I have no peace.
Various plots and settings are also there, but it’s the characters who refuse to go away until I’ve told their stories that force me to write.

What’s your first writing memory?
I wrote a ghost story which was chosen as ‘story of the year’ in my school magazine. I can’t remember now if I wrote to a prompt or if the theme was open, but I can still remember the story – I would now rewrite the ending, but then I’ve come a long way since the age of thirteen!

What was the first novel you wrote?
The first novel I wrote was for children aged 8-12 and called Vlad the Inhaler. It’s the story of an eleven-year-old asthmatic hupyre (half human/half vampire). Vlad is scared of the dark, can’t turn into a bat and is a vegetarian who loves peaches. He has to battle bounty hunters, vampires, werewolves, witches and pitchfork wielding villagers. He starts the book hiding from everyone and everything but finds courage and self-belief along the way.

Was writing just a hobby to begin with for you?
Yes. I only took up writing short stories as a way of passing the time when we moved to France in 1999. I am ashamed to say, in my then ignorance, I thought all I needed to do was dash off a story and it was sure to be accepted.
It took several rejections before I was lucky enough to have one published in one of the women’s magazines – for which I earned the amazing sum of £350.
With ignorance reigning once more, I thought a door had opened through which my stories would flow in one direction and money would flow in the other. Anyone who has written fiction for the magazine market will understand how naïve I was back then!

When did you know you were ‘good’?
I don’t know that I have ever decided I was ‘good’. I knew I could write when I started getting more acceptances than rejections for short stories and articles, but even though I am now a published novelist I still don’t feel I have yet reached the point where I am totally happy with my work. As a writer, I feel I should never stop striving to improve and learn.

When and why did you decide you wanted your writing published?
From the moment I started writing my aim was publication. I feel, rightly or wrongly, that there is no point in writing unless you have readers to enjoy the worlds and characters you have created.

What were your first steps towards publication?
My first steps were disastrous! I finished writing my children’s book and immediately sent it off to several top agents. It was first draft and dreadful, but I was so proud of my achievement I thought it was brilliant. I have since learned the hard way that nothing should be sent out until it has been rewritten, revised and polished until it gleams!
My first published novel was Bad Moon Rising (written as Frances di Plino). It was accepted by an indie publishing house as an ebook only. However, I’m delighted to say it was later published in print and went on to be a finalist in the People’s Book Prize.

What has been your proudest writing moment to date?
When my ten-year-old grandson told me he loved my children’s novel. I have received many emails and letters from readers of my crime series, but nothing comes close to how I felt when Tegan said he couldn’t wait to read the second book in the trilogy.

Any mistakes you wish, in hindsight, you had avoided?
Yes, I wish I had used my own name for my crime series. As Lorraine Mace I have a fairly good author platform, but Frances di Plino was totally unknown. Instead of being able to build on an established reader base, I had to make people aware of this made up person.

What do you know now you wish you’d known at the start of your journey?
That getting an agent wasn’t the Holy Grail! When I was signed up by a top children’s agent I believed I had made it and that the next step (publishing deal, foreign right sales, film of the book and all the fabulous stuff authors dream of) would follow as a matter of course.
The reality was completely different. Acquiring an agent is just one tiny step on a very long treadmill that never seems to come to an end.

What top 3 tips would you offer new and up-coming authors hoping to publish?
Don’t ever lose belief in yourself or your work.
Rewrite until your fingers bleed – and then rewrite again.
Don’t believe your friends and family when they tell you how brilliant you are. You might well be brilliant, but until people who really don’t care if they hurt your feelings say you are, the compliments don’t count.

 Find out more about Lorraine and her books:

Writing Critique Service

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Lagos Lady - exploring the fictional world of Nigerian Author, Leye Adenle

Leye Adenle, author of the crime thriller Easy Motion Tourist, should have been with us at the Triskele Lit Fest in September.

Unfortunately, his journey across London became entangled with a major demonstration and he never made it. We were determined not to miss out on the chance to interview the author of this fascinating and moving novel, set in Lagos amongst sex workers and slum dwellers.

The book has done particularly well in France where, published as
Lagos Lady, it won this year’s prestigious Prix Marianne.

Here Catriona Troth talks to him about his path to becoming a novelist, his inspiration for
Easy Motion Tourist, and where he is taking his characters next.

Hi Leye. Can we start by talking about your route to becoming an author?

Like most writers, I’ve always written. Starting on the back of school exercise books. I have so many stories I didn’t complete. In fact, I tried to write my first novel when I was still in primary school.

My grandfather [Oba Adeleye Adenle] was a writer. I have uncles and aunts who are writers. And my father, though he was a medical doctor, also had a publishing press. He had an extensive library – half medical books and the other half, everything! Maybe it’s because there were very few TV stations, growing up in Africa, books were our entertainment. From a very early age, when I asked my parents something – you knew they knew the answer, but they wouldn’t tell you. The answer was always “look it up in a book.”

So I have always been interested in books and stories, and in telling stories. But even though I kept starting novels, I never managed to finish one.

One day, I was talking with my mother and two my brothers. When we get together, we talk about everything. My mum is particularly interested women’s issues. She was director general for women’s affairs in Oyo state. So the subject came up of women’s mutilated bodies left naked by the side of the road. Left there, untouched, for god knows how long, until they were bloated. No one claimed the bodies. No one investigated. Because the bodies were naked, everyone assumed they were prostitutes. And because they were mutilated, people thought black magic was involved.

So from that discussion, and from thinking about how these women could be protected, suddenly, I had the idea for a story.

I went home that evening, wrote the first chapter and posted it up on Facebook. I went to sleep and forgot about it. And the next day it had loads of comments from people wanted to know what happened next. So I continued writing a chapter every day, and posting it on Facebook, until the entire story was done. Never missed a day. People were sending me Friend requests just so they could read the story.

I remember going to a friend’s house, when I was still posting chapters of the book up on Facebook, and he was talking to me about the character Amaka as if she was someone we knew. “How can you do this to Amaka? Amaka would never...” Then I knew I was really on to something. That was what made me think I should turn this into a book.  

Ben Cameron (chair of the Crime Fiction panel at TLF16) and I both loved character of Amaka, the organiser of Street Samaritans, who tries and protect the vulnerable girls who are dragged into prostitution.

I’ve had a fantastic response to Amaka. She’s based on a friend of mine. Someone I lost touched with many years ago. But not someone protecting the sex workers. There is no one doing that, as as far as I know. I wish there was.
Amaka is a reflection of many other women I have known, too. People ask me why I make my female characters so strong. It’s a bizarre question. I always answer, truthfully, “I don’t know any other kind of women.” 

At the heart of Easy Motion Tourist is a profound compassion for the sex workers trapped in a life where selling their bodies is the only alternative to destitution. Ben Cameron said, “What I really liked was that it seemed to be about humanising and dehumanising the sex-workers – if the are dehumanised, turned into mere objects then anyone could abuse them at will, while if people are reminded that they are human that obviously becomes harder.” You have a story about an encounter you had with sex worker in Lagos, when she was humanised for you.

People think this is why I started to write this book, which isn’t true. But this woman did become one of the characters in the book.

I was on a trip to Lagos with another guy, to set a business there. One night my friend told me he wanted to go out for some cigarettes, by which I knew he meant ‘I want to go clubbing.’ We ended up on a road which is really the red light district of Lagos. As we got out of the car, I was very conscious that there were prostitutes all around us. It wasn’t a world I was familiar with, or comfortable in. I don’t think I had any prejudice against these women. I didn’t think of them as ‘dirty.’ It was more like ‘You do your thing. I am not going to judge you. But there is a wall separating us and I want it to stay there.’

But this one woman was really persistent. She followed me and touched my arm, and I was really shocked. I shook her off and said “Don’t touch me.” But then I looked into her face and I could see she was really pained by the way I treated her. She said, “But you did not have to say it like that.” That really stuck with me. That moment of connection when she became a real human being just trying to survive.

I wanted to give my readers the same experience, the same sense of empathy with another human being.

That’s also why I try not to have any ‘walk-on’ characters. Everyone in the book should be a real person. Even the bad characters have a reason for being bad. Life has dealt them a bad hand. Everyone their own story.

The Easy Motion Tourist of the title is Guy Collins, a British journalist who goes to Nigeria to cover elections for an obscure cable channel. One his first night in Lagos, he stumbles on the murder and mutilation of a young woman. Why did you choose an outsider rather than a Nigerian as your narrator?

Guy is not the main character in the book. Amaka is. But having Guy as a narrator meant that I could legitimately look at Lagos as an outsider does, notice things that a Lagosian would never notice. Guy, as a foreigner, is perfect for bringing Lagos alive. His experience of Lagos changes in the course of the book. Guy is afraid of Lagos, he recoils from it, then he starts to love it. So it’s a way into the city for the reader.

This is maybe a tricky question, but Easy Motion Tourist paints a pretty bleak picture of Nigeria – do you worry about the danger of feeding into Western narrative of a dysfunctional Africa?

I didn’t think I was painting a bleak picture of Nigeria. I was painting an honest one! Not one Lagosian has said to me, “How dare you show Lagos like this?”

And you have to remember this is a crime novel. If you judged New York by the movies, you’d be afraid to walk down the street.

Or if you judge Edinburgh by reading Ian Rankin?


So where next with your writing?

If you’ve read Easy Motion Tourist, you know that it ends on a cliffhanger. Actually, I wrote a third book before the first one came out, but that one picks up again a year later. My publisher told me, "You can’t do that! You have to resolve the cliffhanger."

So the second book starts pretty much where the first one leaves off. It’s a political thriller this time, about corruption, and it’s set in a world of power and affluence, rather than in the Lagosian slums. Amaka is in it, but not Guy. Guy is back in London. But in book 3, Guy will be coming back to Lagos.

Some people thought I would keep writing about the street girls. That I would become the ‘voice of the sex workers’ – but is that fair on these people? That’s exploitation! That’s me exploiting them for gain.

And does the second book have a title yet?

Easy Motion Tourist is taken from the title of a song by King Sunny Adé. So I’ve taken the title of the second book, When Trouble Sleeps, from a lyric by another Nigerian musician, Fela Kuti.

I can’t wait to read it! Thank you, Leye.

You can read my review of Easy Motion Tourist on Book Muse UK here.Easy Motion Tourist is published in the UK by Cassava Republic, and in France by Métailié Noir ( (as Lagos Lady, translated by David Fauquemberg) It will be published in Spanish in 2017. When Trouble Sleeps will be published by Cassava Republic in 2017.

Leye Adenle is also the author of Chronicles of a Runs Girl, a fictional blog in the voice of a Lagos prostitute, written after
Easy Motion Tourist was finished but before it came out as a book, and originally published online anonymously.

The Crime and Thrillers panel from the 2016 Triskele Lit Fest is on YouTube here.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them – Review

By JJ Marsh

A deep and thoughtful storyworld, this film deserves to be watched more than once. The terrific pace, sensory immersion and taut storytelling rockets the audience through this two-hour journey, leaving you wondering where the time went. Then watch it again to appreciate all those nuanced details of story, set, character, creatures and messages.

Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander

The story takes us to semi-familiar territory – the magical world introduced by Harry Potter – but in a very different time and place. This is New York in the 1920s and the wizarding world is under threat. Not just from the No-Maj (Muggle) community, but from malevolent forces within.

Diffident British magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives off the boat with a special suitcase, stuffed with fantastical creatures. Beasts he can relate to, but people? Not so much. When a Niffler (platypus-cross-mole with a magpie personality) escapes, it leads to a chance encounter with Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston). Their challenge is to safeguard the beasts while evading capture by the authorities, aided and abetted by Tina’s beautiful sister, mindreader Queenie (Alison Sudol).

Newt (Redmayne) and Tina (Katherine Waterston)

Glorious sets, jaw-dropping effects, a swooping soundtrack and cinematography in which every frame is a picture, this film has many layers. The adventure of the four main characters is a rollercoaster in itself, yet there are several powerful angles underpinning this world.

Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogel), Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) and Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne)

Tolerance, suspicion, extremism, prejudice, conditioning, acceptance and repression all feature as part of a changing environment. Generalisations are magnified into threats while individual bias evaporates at the personal level. Manipulation and influence, via the character of Creedence (Ezra Miller), plumb a theme far scarier than any of the fantastical creatures. Set ninety years ago, this atmosphere has unsettling real world echoes, such as when the death penalty for a witch resembles a ducking stool.

Creedence (Ezra Miller) and Graves (Colin Farrell)

For Potter fans, references to the wizarding world abound. For those new to the magic, everything makes sense. For those feeling unsettled by less-than-magical reality, here be salutary reminders of common humanity and our duty to our fellow beasts.

You can enjoy this as two hours of fabulous escapist entertainment. But like Newt’s suitcase, if you lift the lid, there’s so much more inside.

Images courtesy of Warner Brothers

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

My Publishing Journey ... with Linda Gillard

By Gillian Hamer

Linda Gillard lives in Ayrshire, Scotland. She's the author of eight novels, including STAR GAZING, short-listed in 2009 for Romantic Novel of the Year and the Robin Jenkins Literary Award. HOUSE OF SILENCE was selected for Amazon UK's Top Ten Best of 2011 in the Indie Author category.

How did you get into writing, was it just a hobby to begin with for you?

I started writing fiction when I was 47. I was suffering from severe depression following a mental breakdown. I’d had to give up teaching and I couldn’t face my empty future, so I started writing a sort of alternative autobiography set in the Outer Hebrides. It turned into EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, my first novel.
          I never planned to be a novelist. I didn’t even plan that first book. I just wrote and as I wrote, I noticed the pain stopped – all kinds of pain. Writing, it seemed, was morphine for the soul and in my case, just as addictive. I’ve published eight novels since 2005.

How and when did you know you were ‘good’?

I’d been a freelance journalist before training as a teacher, so I knew I could write, but I didn’t know I could write fiction. I got an inkling when I showed EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY to my online writing group. The others were hoping for publication, but I wasn’t. EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY was written just for me, as therapeutic entertainment.
          When my writing pals had finished reading the draft of EG they insisted I send it to agents. I didn’t see it as any more than a very personal exploration of the relationship between mental illness and creativity. I thought the love story was a bit self-indulgent (I’d fallen in love with my hero), but my fellow authors said EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY had an important and positive message about mental illness.
          With hindsight, I have to acknowledge they were right. It’s a book that has apparently changed lives and led to a better understanding of depression as a serious illness.

When and why did you decide you wanted your writing published?

I drifted into it. I approached agents reluctantly, expecting to prove my book was unpublishable, but one offered to take me on. I was astonished. By then I’d started a second novel and knew I’d found what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

What were your first steps towards publication?

My agent sent EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY round to editors. We got some interest but lots of rejections. Editors agreed I could write, but they thought the book wasn’t commercial because it didn’t belong to any clear genre. (My career has been dogged from the start by genre issues.) I could see their point. This was 2004, when chick lit was at its height and my romantic heroine was a 47-year old manic depressive.
          But I was lucky. I went to a writers’ conference where I met a couple who were setting up a new imprint, Transita, publishing fiction aimed at older women. I told them about EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, they asked to read it, then they bought it.

Linda's latest novel
What has been your proudest writing moment to date?

You’d think it would be seeing your book on a shelf in Waterstones or being shortlisted for awards, but I don’t think anything has made me prouder than the many warm, often moving emails I’ve had from readers, thanking me for my books and describing how they’ve changed their lives. It amazes me that my writing has made a difference to so many people, especially as I started off writing just for myself.

Any mistakes you wish, in hindsight, you had avoided?

I’m not sure it’s a mistake, but I wish I’d given more thought to whether or not to use a pseudonym. My name isn’t particularly commercial or memorable and there are two other authors called Linda Gillard. If I was starting up again, I’d choose something much more stylish!

What do you know now you wish you’d known at the start of your journey?

I wish I’d known finding a publisher has little to do with whether or not you’re a brilliant writer. I had so many “rave rejections” – emails praising my writing, characters and dialogue, which ended by saying my book didn’t fit the publisher’s list.
          I also wish I’d known how useful it would be to number a GP, lawyer and policeman among my acquaintance. Every author needs to know such people. It saves hours of Googling.
          If I’d known about the long hours, the mental and emotional exhaustion, the fact that each book is harder to write than the last, I might never have contacted an agent.

What top 3 tips would you offer new and up-coming authors hoping to publish?


That’s what I do now. The traditional route is painfully slow, badly paid and you have little artistic control. I had a very bumpy ride with my second publisher who bought my third novel, STAR GAZING, which was shortlisted for and won various awards. They asked me to re-write my mixed-genre fourth book, HOUSE OF SILENCE as a romance because it would be difficult to market. After much soul-searching, I declined to re-write and withdrew the manuscript, offering my next book instead, but they dropped me, citing “disappointing sales”. I went on to self-publish HOUSE OF SILENCE, making more money and reaching a much wider audience with my “unmarketable” novel than my traditionally published books.

Promote by stealth.

Whether you self-publish or go the traditional route, you’ll have to promote your books and yourself. Instead of promoting your books, promote the issues, themes and settings. Cultivate relationships with readers. Engage with them on blogs, in discussion forums, on social media. In the course of chatting, tell people about your books – just a little to whet their appetite. Then, if they show interest, tell them more.

Don’t forget to write!

Achieving online visibility is the biggest challenge and there are no short cuts. Resign yourself to putting in a great deal of time seeking out potential readers, online and in person, because they’re unlikely to find you. See this as part of the job, but make sure it doesn’t become the job. The best and most lucrative use of your time will always be writing the next book.

For more information about Linda and her published novels, follow the links below:

Website -

Facebook –

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Snapshots from... Copenhagen

In our regular series, we go exploring, finding out about the writing life around the world. Today Ola Saltin lifts the lid on Copenhagen, the Danish capital. 
Images by Ola Saltin.

What's so great about CPH?

As a Swede living in Denmark for some 22 years, I'd say the best thing is that you can buy alcohol no matter what day or time...ahem. That being said, living in a country that reportedly has the most contented people on earth (which comes from the plain fact that we here start with the basic supposition that all will be shit, and then find out when we get there it's pretty okay) what I appreciate is a very laid back attitude to things small and large. "Hygge" is a Danish word that is hard to nail in English: it means kinda "comfy", "neat" and "cosy": it is often achieved through a coffee on the corner with  good friends and a chat about last week. We bike a lot - everywhere, and in all weathers.

Tell about the Cultural life.
Culture, high and low, thrives and bustles in Copenhagen. From our huge (fairly) new opera house paid in cash for by the late Mr McKinney-Møller (Maersk shipping magnate) to crazed out techno street-festivals (Distortion), independent theatres, street-food to restaurants at the top of the list (NOMA) - Copenhagen is quite a happening place, and accessible everywhere by bike.  Out at the old naval dockyards, on the water, as is most things in central Copenhagen, a cluster of creative schools has put up shop in the old brick buildings: film-school, music academy, design school, etc are within shouting distance of each other and make the most of collaborations across the disciplines.

What's hot, what are people reading?
Naturally, we read what's on the international bestseller lists, in English or translated. In Danish, it's a mix of home-grown crime and some very good literary fiction writers. I would off-hand mention Kim Leine as the most interesting author right now in Denmark. His "Prophets of the Eternal Fjord" is outstanding. (As we Scandies basically share the same language, albeit with some tweaks, minor and major, I for one can easily read both Danish and Norwegian books in their original texts, and prefer to do so.)

As an example, one of the most feted Scandinavian writers of recent times, Karl Ove Knausgaard ("My Struggle") is Norwegian, lives in Skåne, (south Sweden just across the water from Copenhagen) and is read by many here in Norwegian. So it's all a big mix, basically


Recommend some books set in the city.
Ah, yes. Not so easy. As the whole population of Denmark is not even close to that of London's, I'll permit myself to range a bit outside the city, into the countryside and over the centuries.
Hans Christian Andersen is undoubtedly our most famous writer. Although he was originally from Odense, island of Fyn, he lived most of his life in Copenhagen. After that I'd say it's Karen Blixen (writing under the pseudonym Isak Dinesen), whose estate is just north of Copenhagen. Peter Høeg's "Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow" is mostly set in Copenhagen, but typically ends on Greenland, a danisk dominion. The Danish crime-writers are starting to catch up with their Swedish counterparts. I'd personally recommend Jussi Adler-Olsens "Department Q" series. Outlandishly crazy crimes, but with a dry sense of humour.
If I'd recommend one single novel written the last ten years, I'd immediately say Carsten Jensen's "We, the drowned." It's an epic novel about Danish seafarers - from the 18th century up to the second world war. Epic, sprawling, crazy, happy, strong and vibrant. It's about Danes at sea, and humans alive or on the cusp of dying. I've read it in Danish three times.


Is the location an inspiration or distraction?
I'm very fond of my adopted home city. Its parks, waterways and inhabitants are a continual source of inspiration, infatuation and irritation (also good for stories!) I have the luxury of being a part-owner of a summerhouse an hour outside the city, by the sea.  As I've been visiting there and for periods living there, for some 30 years, I know the area, its inhabitants and villages well. It's a great getaway and also a source for stories and plots. (See below).

What are you writing?
I'm currently writing on a proposal for a TV series, inspired by and located out around where our summerhouse is located. Nearby is a big fjord that was pumped dry of water in the late 18th century and now is very fertile farmland, all of it some 5 meters under sea-level. Hence the title "Lowlands" that has now attracted a Dutch producer (with the obvious connection to the Dutch lowlands and being able to set it in Holland...). Let's see.