Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Highlights from the Triskele Lit Fest

When the Triskele Books' one day Lit Fest came to a close in September, we knew that the conversations generated across the five panels were far too good not to share with a wider audience.

Thanks to sponsorship from Matador Books and sound engineering expertise from Live Box (who overcame some significant challenges in the form of noise intrusion from dance classes in the room above) we were able to record the panels and upload the videos to our YouTube channel.

Here are some of the highlights from the day, which we hope will tempt you to delve into the videos to watch the discussions in full.

Sci Fi and Fantasy

We kicked off the day with a lively discussion with Sci Fi and Fantasy authors Felicia Yap, CS Wilde, Jeff Norton, Eliza Green and Yen Ooi, chaired by Jack Wedgbury from Matador.

The panel showcased the vast range of modern Sci Fi and Fantasy. Felicia's upcoming Yesterday is a thriller about a murder being investigated in a world where most people only remember yesterday. CS Wilde's A Courtroom of Ashes is a fantasy about a lawyer in hell. Jeff Norton's MetaWars explores what happens when humans retreat from the real world into a digital one. Eliza Green's Becoming Human imagines humans competing for resources with another race on a distant planet, while Yen Ooi's Sun; Queens of Earth harnesses the powers of dreams to provide energy.

Between them, they reveal their inspiration and discuss how SFF liberates them to explore big themes from what it means to be human to the destruction of the Earth, but to view them through a personal perspective.

What do an oyster card, an iPod, a set of Bose headphones, a paintbrush and a passport reveal about their writing processes?


In the second panel of the day, Triskele's Liza Perrat talked to Romance writers Isabel Wolff, Charlie Maclean, Sareeta Domingo and Carol Cooper.

Isabel is an accidental novelist who began her fiction career when a newspaper column about the singles scene was turned into a novel. She has since written ten more novels.  Charlie Maclean's Unforgettable is a 'Sliding Doors' type story that explores the consequences of asking someone on a date ... or not. Sareeta Domingo's The Nearness of You, about a young woman falling in love with her best friend's boyfriend, also examines themes of bereavement and depression. Carol Cooper's multi-stranded narratives follow an array of couples at different stages in their lives.

They explore how far a Romance novel can play with the RWA's definition of "a narrative centred around two individuals falling in love and struggling to make their relationship work." They consider the role of sex in a romance novel - does it have a place in moving the plot forward and revealing character, or should the author keep the bedroom door closed? When men write Romance, does it get 'elevated' into a different category? What happens when you try writing in the dark?

And a pocket watch, a photograph, some music and a bottle of bathroom cleaner reveal surprising secrets about their writing process.

(With apologies for the poor quality of sound in the audience segments on this video)

Crime and Thrillers

Next, Ben Cameron of Cameron PR talked to Crime and Thriller authors Kate Hamer, Adam Croft and Chris Longmuir.

Kate Hamer's The Girl in the Red Coat is a dual narrative about a mother and her lost child. Adam Croft's Her Last Tomorrow is also centres round a missing child, but in this case the father receives a ransom note with an impossible demand. Chris Longmuir's Devil's Porridge is a historical crime novel based around the first policewomen in Scotland, guarding a munitions factory during WWI.

They contrast the challenges of the different types of stories they tell, reveal the horrible secret of what Devil's Porridge really was, explore the new concept of Grip Lit, and explain how a bottle of perfume, a literary award and the scan of one's unborn child continue to inspire their writing.

The empty seat at the end of the row belongs to Nigerian author Leye Adenle, who was prevented from getting to the Lit Fest on the day. Catriona Troth caught up with him a few weeks later and you can read her interview with him here

Historical Fiction

In the last genre based panel of the day, four very different authors discuss Historical fiction with fellow author Jane Davis.

Orna Ross's Her Secret Rose is a fictional account of the real life lovers WB Yeats and Maud Gonne. Radhika Swarup's Where the River Parts looks at the largest displacement of people in human history, following the Partition of India, through the eyes of a young Hindu woman. JD Smith's Overlord series takes us all the way back to 3rd Century Syria and the life of Zenobia, the warrior queen who nearly toppled the Roman Empire. Alison Morton's Roma Nova series is an alternative history in which the Roman Empire survived into the 20th Century.

The four authors reveal why the chose their particular stories to tell, the different challenges and responsibilities of writing history from the recent and distant pasts, how to create a voice appropriate for a different time period , and the discovery that surprised them most in the course of writing their books

And an index card, a bracelet, 'the only book I have ever defaced' and a photograph of a Roman gladius reveal secrets about their writing process.

Preserving the Unicorn - conversations with literary authors and their editors.

The last panel of the day was a discussion with literary authors and their editors, chaired by Triskele's Catriona Troth. Sunny Singh discusses her novel, Hotel Arcadia, and the fascinating role her Dutch translator played in honing the manuscript. Alex Pheby and his editor from Galley Beggar Press, Sam Jordison, discuss his novel, Playthings, the fictionalised story of Daniel Schreber, of one of Freud's most celebrated case studies. And Rohan Quine and his editor Dan Holloway take the lid off the process of editing Rohan's latest novel, Beasts of Electra Drive.

In this wide-ranging conversation, Sunny reveals inspirations ranging from Dante's Inferno to Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas. Alex  explains how his novel grew out of frustration with blinkered 20th C analysis of Scheber. Sam  describes how he absorbed the emotional impact of the book and imagined telling a reviewer, "I've got this book and it's going to destroy you," before deciding "of course we've got to publish it."  And Rohan describes his book  as a 'love bite to the world,'  while Dan calls it 'a beautiful spectacle compiled of horror.'

Part way through the conversation, Alex Pheby threw a provocation to the audience. "All forms of masculine activity are vile and pernicious and should be weeded out." Sadly, time ran out before the implications of this could be explored. After the event, though, Orna Ross came up with some great questions for Alex. We hope to get the chance to put those questions to him in the new year. If so, we will publish his responses in Words with Jam.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Christmas Gift Ideas for Writers

By Jane Dixon-Smith

You've bought gifts for your nan, the next door-but-one neighbour, and your ex-girlfriend's dog, but there's one missing: that crazy writer in your life. Here's my list of this year's hot Christmas gifts for your writery friends ...

1) The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide To Character Expression

I've bought this for myself. A book highlighting 75 emotions and listing the possible body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses for each. Paperback £9.51

2. Writers' Tears Whisky

Admittedly you have to like whisky, and I'm sure it's not real writers' tears, but a great name. 

3. Paper Plates

Well, not really, but they look like paper. 

4. Writing Retreat

Set in beautiful Wales, Ty Newydd hosts a variety of writing classes and retreats throughout the year. How about Storytelling from the Start? £220 - £295 per person.

5. An Umbrella

I know, it sounds a bit odd, but there's a whole bunch of these available and they'll keep you dry in the winter weather. £14.99

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Writing Queer Fiction, by David C Dawson

Did you know that Bram Stoker’s Dracula has homoerotic aspects? Count Dracula, for example, warns off the female vampires and claims Jonathan Harker, saying, “This man belongs to me!” Stoker was influenced by Sheridan le Fanu, whose novella Carmilla invented lesbian vampires.

It was pretty tricky to write queer fiction in the 19th Century. In fact, right up to the 1950s, British authors could be prosecuted for writing openly about homosexuality. Queer references were written in a kind of code, using allusions and discreet subtext. Oscar Wilde was very daring when he wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray. Reviewers at the time said he merited prosecution for offending public morality.

Fortunately in the 20th century, public prudery steadily dissipated, and writers became bolder. From Thomas Mann’s delicious Death in Venice, and Proust’s complex A la recherche du temps perdu, through to Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series and Bret Easton Ellis’ amazing American Psycho, queer characters increasingly took centre stage.

Which brings us to this century. And my ventures into writing queer fiction.

As a commuter on the Metropolitan line into London for many years, I wrote short stories to amuse myself. I’m a life long fan of detective novels, and finally I plucked up the courage to write one for myself.

It was a form of therapy. I was late coming out, very late. Writing helped me come to terms with myself. I wanted to write a book where the central characters, plus the majority of supporting characters, just happened to be gay. The book would be the opposite of most detective fiction. I didn’t want the gay characters to be oddities. When I was immersing myself in queer fiction, I found too many novels had queer characters that were full of angst. Victims. I wanted my characters to be positive.

So that’s how Dominic Delingpole and his partner Jonathan McFadden were born, in the Dominic Delingpole Mystery series. Neither of them is modelled on a single individual. They are a rich mixture of gay men I have encountered over the years.

The writing process was long; a little over three years. After the first draft, I was lucky enough to go on a five-day Queer Fiction course run annually by the admirable writers’ education organisation called Arvon. There were nine of us, plus two tutors, in a beautiful old house in the wilds of Yorkshire. We had no internet connection and no mobile phone signal. But we had great company and spectacular views.

The tutors, very politely, ripped my book apart. So when I got home, I stuffed it in a drawer and got on with everyday life. It was my boyfriend who nudged me, cajoled me and nagged me into taking it out of the drawer, and having another go.

So I did.

I went through three redrafts, and I was still unhappy with it. But this time, it was my son who asked the question: “What’s the point if you never send it to a publisher?”

When I looked around for a publisher, I wanted one who actively promoted gay literature. I was very lucky to find an American house called DSP Publications, part of DreamSpinner Press. That’s when I found out just how rich the queer genre is.

There are thousands of books published each year with strong, queer characters at the heart of them. There are romances, thrillers, horror, science fiction, westerns. There are so many sub-genres to this wonderful genre.

DreamSpinner Press was set up ten years ago, just as eBooks and internet distribution was gaining in popularity. Its founder, Elizabeth North, saw a gap in the market for gay romances. A few years later, she set up DSP Publications to serve other queer genres.

The internet has revolutionised queer fiction. Historically, very few bookshops would stock queer books. It took a demonstration at Barnes & Noble in the 1980s to force them to devote a shelf to queer culture. In the UK, you would have to travel to London and the amazing Gay’s the Word bookshop near King’s Cross to buy a book on a gay or lesbian theme.

Today, there are thousands of queer fiction titles online. Not just on Amazon, but the Apple bookstore, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones and so many more.

My novel, The Necessary Deaths, is a gay mystery thriller. This is a rich sub-genre. There is a thriving Facebook group devoted to it, and I am honoured to be a member of the International Thriller Writers’ Association, where I have met several other writers of gay thrillers.

Just before The Necessary Deaths was published, I was a guest speaker at a queer writing conference and book festival called UK Meet, held in Southampton. I was fortunate to meet other novelists from around the world, who were all very welcoming. I was also able to meet a number of enthusiastic readers of queer fiction. That was a great privilege. Suddenly, my writing was no longer my personal therapy. I met people who felt a great sense of belonging, as a result of queer fiction, when in the past they had felt isolated.

I’m now part of a worldwide community of queer fiction writers and readers, who are giving me wonderful support as I work to complete the next book in the series.

You can read Catriona Troth's review of The Necessary Deaths on Book Muse UK here.

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.


Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Interview with Wyl Menmuir

Wyl Menmuir is a novelist and editor based in Cornwall. His bestselling debut novel, The Many, published by Salt, was long-listed for the 2016 Man Booker Prize. Wyl has also been published in A Space to Write, a book exploring authors’ creative writing practices, in nature and academic journals, and he writes regularly for a range of national magazines and blogs. Wyl lectures in creative writing and is also currently writer in residence at Richard Lander School in Truro.

Interview by Karen Pegg

Congratulations on your recent nomination of The Many to The Man Booker Prize longlist. For a first novel this is an incredible achievement. What was your first reaction?

It’s a bit of a cliché, but I didn’t really believe it when I got the message from my publisher on the day the longlist was announced. It was incredibly surreal, as it wasn’t even on my radar. I follow the Man Booker Prize each year and try to read at least the books on the shortlist, so to be nominated for the prize was unreal.

Which Man Booker winning novel do you wish you’d written?

Photo credit: Dave Muir
There are so many I wish I’d written, though if I had to pick one, it would be Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day, which is one of my all-time favourite novels. It’s incredibly powerful, incredibly moving, but at the same time, entirely understated, like so much of Ishiguro’s writing. It’s everything I want out of a novel, in that it explores big issues, though from a fascinating angle, and - as importantly - it stays with the reader long after the first reading.

Timothy (the main character in The Many) is an outsider looking in, trying to belong but rejected at every turn. Is this sense of rejection or loneliness something that you have witnessed or experienced yourself?

I think we’ve all had experiences of being both outsider and insider at different points in our lives. We’ve all been rejected and lonely at times, and at others have rejected and perhaps made others lonely, so I think this aspect of Timothy’s experience is perhaps one readers can sympathise with on some level, although hopefully in not so extreme circumstances.

The sea and Perran’s house are both strong characters in The Many. How important is a sense of place to you in your work?

Hugely so. For me, Perran’s house, the village and the sea are as much characters as the fishermen or the woman in grey. I knew the landscape would feature heavily in the novel from the beginning, from all the villages along the coast that I visited as part of my research, through to my own writing practice, which is very much rooted in the landscape and being part of that landscape.

One of the themes you touch on in The Many is that of ‘going back’ or trying to ‘go back’ to a place which holds memories of a happier time. Have you, like Timothy, ever tried to ‘go back’ and if so, how did you find this experience?

There’s a popular saying that you can’t step into the same river twice. I think the same is true of anywhere we visit. Once we have left, the place we visited exists only in memory (which in itself does strange things to a place), and I find when I return to a place of which I have a strong memory, it’s never really the place I remember. I often feel, as Timothy feels at one point, that things have been moved around when I return to somewhere I know well – street signs, buildings, roads and so on. Or sometimes it’s just the feeling that the place you visited has moved on since you were there. It would be strange if that was not the case, but I wanted to play with that idea of places remembered.

The Many was published during the Brexit crisis. As a writer, how do you feel post-Brexit and how do you feel it will affect you as a writer? With specific reference to the UK fishing industry, are you in any way optimistic that freedom from EU rules will have a positive effect?

How do I feel post-Brexit? It’s such a complex thing I struggle to get my head around it, although I was distraught at the outcome of the referendum. As a writer, I have no idea how it will affect me, though I’m certain it will feed into my writing, perhaps flowing into the collective anxieties of some of my characters as it has into my own.

I wasn’t trying to make a particular political point about Brexit, although I was very aware of the feelings of fishermen I spoke to about quotas and things like that. I think cooperation on a scale larger than this island is essential when it comes to looking after the seas, especially if we want to continue to have the privilege of taking fish from them to eat, and I was really dismayed at the referendum outcome, as I believe it could be a big step backwards for the health of our seas. We have a huge responsibility to care for and protect the oceans and that was at the back of my mind as I was writing The Many. I surf and sail and spend a lot of time by the sea with my family, and we see the amount of plastic that washes up on the shore. We try to do our bit by getting involved in the beach cleans at our local spot, but it sometimes feels quite overwhelming the amount of damage we’ve already done to the seas.

Reading the book is an intense experience, with its haunting and nightmarish quality. How intense was the writing process for you? Did you find you were ‘dreaming’ or ‘living’ this book in your subconscious, or writing chapters you had dreamt?

The novel unfolded it to me almost entirely unplanned, so yes, I was certainly living the novel as I was writing it. I very rarely knew what I was going to write until I had written it and even then I surprised myself when I read it back. So much of it was unfamiliar, dragged up from somewhere in my subconscious and I learned to go with it, as I knew the story was unfolding itself in a way I couldn’t have possibly done had I written a plan, sketched out the characters and their journeys and had a beginning and endpoint in mind.

During the writing process do you share drafts with family or friends or do you prefer to save the finished result until the end?

I shared sections of the novel with my MA Creative Writing groups, which was hugely helpful in terms of knowing how far I could push the reader before they became alienated from the novel, how much I should explain and how much I should withhold, although it was different with different readers. On the whole, though, I don’t share my writing with my friends and family until I’m fairly happy with it. I want it to be as polished as possible before any readers get their hands on it.

In your acknowledgments, you thank Chris for ‘a singularly useful piece of writing advice – finish what you start’ Is finishing something you struggled with as a writer?

Chris and Bec, who created the Write Track app that I used while writing the novel, use ‘Finish what you start’ as a strapline for the app and it’s definitely the best piece of writing advice I have taken. I had a dread of coming to a grinding halt and leaving a half-finished novel in a drawer, as one of my motivations for writing the novel was to be an example to my children. If I can’t finish the projects I start, I’ll have no credibility when I’m encouraging them to take on risky projects, doing the things that really matter to them. Life’s too short not to finish the important things.

Much of The Many was written travelling around the north coast of Cornwall in a campervan. But then you exercised your D.I.Y skills and built a desk. Is writing on the move or outside of your normal surroundings something you recommend? And how does writing at a desk differ from a more ‘nomadic’ process?

My guilty secret here is that while I did build a desk on which to write my second novel, I’ve not really used it much. I think being transient might be integral to my writing practice. I’m too restless to sit at a desk for any length of time, and quite often an idea will occur to me at a really inconvenient time and I have to get it down on paper before it disappears, so having a notebook and a pen with me is the most important thing. Being on the move helps with the writing process – I’m not sure why or how, but it seems that way to me, and the campervan is useful for that. It’s like an office on wheels.

Part of this book was written on an Arvon course. Was it useful for you to be in a community with other writers?

Incredibly useful. Being around other people who are all struggling with the same sorts of problems is really motivating, and it’s great to feel you’re being useful to someone else as well, as sometimes the whole writing process can feel slightly solipsistic.

Do you believe that a writers’ retreat can be a turning-point in a writer’s career?

It was for me. I was encouraged to take creative risks with my writing that have paid off and started me on a path that has already taken me to some amazing places. So, emphatically, yes.

If you could spend a week in residence with another author, living or dead, who would that be?

Although I think it’s probably a mistake to meet your heroes (they always disappoint), I think I’d spend a week with Gabriel García Marquez.

Did you grow up in a world of books?

Yes. Both of my parents were readers and always read to me. I had my own books growing up and we went to the library at least once a week. After bugging them incessantly about it, the librarians ended up giving me extra tickets so I could take out more books. And even then I went back at least once a week.

If we could travel in time and catch a glimpse of your childhood book-shelf, which authors would we find there?

Tolkien, Alan Garner, Susan Cooper, Robert Westall, Michelle Magorian, Wilard Price, Roald Dahl, T H White, Richmal Crompton, Conan Doyle, for starters.

Do you remember your first piece of creative writing?

I remember having an idea for a poem while I was in the bath when I was very young. I jumped out of the bath and wrote the poem, dripping wet at the top of the stairs. I don’t remember what the poem was, but I still get that sense of excitement when something I’m working on starts to come together, or when that idea occurs, seemingly from nowhere.

There’s been a lot of criticism of Creative Writing courses by authors and academics such as Hanif Kureishi. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the idea that creative writing can be taught? What made you decide to take an MA? Was this an academic decision, or specifically to help you achieve publication?

I think you can be guided, supported, encouraged, though taught is a problematic word. You can’t make someone a writer, but you can provide the right environment for them to explore what it is to be a writer, and you can model for them what being a writer is to you, which can be helpful. I wanted to do the MA partly because I love academic study (I’m a geek like that) and partly for the discipline. I trained as a journalist and I think I’ve never got over that journalistic requirement of needing a deadline to kick me into gear.

Are you working on your second novel? Can you tell us a little about it?

Yes, I’m working on a second novel at the moment. It’s certainly as ambitious as the first, if not more so, but it’s a very different novel. Other than that, I’d rather it was a surprise.

Did you always know that you wanted to be a writer?

Yes. Always. Being a novelist has been an ambition since I remember being able to thing. To be someone who can conjure up a whole world from their imagination, transport a reader to somewhere else and bring them back to the world a changed person – I think that’s possibly the best type of magic there is.

Wyl Menmuir will be teaching at A Chapter Away residential writing retreat in 2017. Watch the website for details.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

60 Seconds with Katharine D'Souza

By Gillian Hamer

Katharine D’Souza writes contemporary fiction about families, friends, and the issues they encounter. She’s published three books set in Birmingham, UK, and also runs a writers’ group, is chair of a festival of writing, undertakes freelance editing work, and works part time at a university. All of this cuts into her reading time, a situation which annoys her. Her most recent novel, No Place, came out in August.

Hello. Tell us a little about you and your writing. 
While I’ve always loved to write stories, I didn’t take it seriously until I went part time at work over ten years ago and now find that balancing my own writing, running a writers’ group, editing, and working part time in an office is a good combination to ensure I both get some writing done and have something to write about.
What’s the best thing about being a writer? 
Well, I’m not quick with a witty comeback, so I like the opportunity to write a draft, delete it, rewrite it, revise, etc until the lightning-fast response actually appears in print.
And the worst? 
Writing first drafts. I very much prefer having material to rework.
Why did you choose your genre? 
I want to write about the way we live in contemporary Britain, so contemporary fiction set in British cities is the perfect fit for me to explore the issues I think about.
Do you have a special writing place? 
I am lucky enough to have a study of my own, but writing the first draft often happens in cafes, on trains, while lying on sofas, anywhere I can force myself to do it, really.
Which four writers would you invite to a dinner party? 
Oooh, can they be from history? Because I’d love to invite Jane Austen, no competition. There are a lot of things I’d like to ask her. Though I’d also like to talk to J K Rowling and Maggie O'Farrell as they’re my modern day inspirations. Then, because meeting her at a Puffin Club event when I was very small was probably the seed of me wanting to write, Noel Streatfeild, so I could say ‘thank you’.
If you could choose a different genre to write in for just one book – what would it be? 
Tough choice – perhaps fantasy. I enjoy reading it, but have never tried writing it. I think I’m intimidated by the complex world-building in the books I’ve read.
What do you know now you wish you’d known at the start of your writing journey?
The importance of independent critique, from writers’ group colleagues or an editor. Finding the courage to request and then listen to honest feedback is what really helped me improve as a writer.
What is your proudest writing achievement to date? 
Whenever I hear feedback from readers. When someone tells me how much they enjoyed a book, or talks about the events or characters with insights which show how much they identified with the issues, that’s what makes it all worthwhile.
What are your future writing plans? 
I am working on a new novel. But it’s at first draft stage. Which means I’m hating it. Watch this space!
Find out more :

Twitter: @KatharineDS