Here I am on Sue Barnard’s blogspot, talking about the writing journey, and my new book, The Ashentilly Letters (third in the Calgary Chessman sequence, published 18/11/16).
17 Nov 2016 Leave a comment
by yvonnemarjot in archaeology, author, book, books, contemporary fiction, CrookedCat, fiction, literary fiction, new zealand, novel, publication, Scotland, Scottish islands, Tobermory, Uncategorized Tags: blog, inspiration, novel, writing
11 Nov 2016 Leave a comment
The third book in the Calgary Chessman sequence is out next week, and I’m really looking forward to the launch day (Friday 18th November 2016, although you can pre-order it now online). The arc begun in The Calgary Chessman, which saw Cas Longmore and her son both begin new chapters in their lives, moved on through the disturbing events of The Book of Lismore, and now reaches a natural closure as Cas returns to her grandparents’ farm in New Zealand, and Sam begins his independent life at university.
Life is full of surprises, though, and both of them have their troubles to face. Like its predecessors, The Ashentilly Letters tells a complete archaeological story, this time with a Roman theme. Just how far north in Scotland did the legions really get? Here’s a taste of the story, to get you going.
The Ashentilly Letters (extract)
There was just one trench still open that morning, and only the desire to complete the job motivated the students to continue working on it, even as their supervisors began the task of closing down the site. Mid-morning, the pair of girls currently scraping the next layer off the trench shouted for help. Niall had been closest, and he and Sam strolled over to see what the students had found: small lumps of rusted metal, several of them clustered together at one end of the trench. The girls. Rachel and Sarah, scrambled out to let Niall take a closer look. He squatted, careful not to disturb the remainder of the trench, and examined the lumps more closely, before standing and turning to Sam.
“Go for Tim, please. We need him straight away.”
Sam went without question, and was soon back with the dig leader.
“What have you found, Niall?” Tim’s voice was calm. The chances of finding anything really exciting at this late stage of the dig were pretty low.
“Really?” Tim knelt at the edge of the trench and thrust his face into its depths.
Niall fished the head torch out of his pocket and turned it on. The narrow beam played over the cluster of finds.
“I agree. Given what we’ve already uncovered this week, they may be Roman. We can’t walk away from this – it could potentially be the evidence we need to pull the site into perspective. Go for it. But we have to do it today: the permit runs out at midnight, and the weather is on the turn. We won’t get another chance.”
Niall climbed out of the trench and gave his orders, pulling together a team of four to begin work under his direct guidance, and later in the day dragging in another four to erect and hold the gazebo as they worked frantically to remove as much of the find as they could before the forecast weather rolled in. There was no delay to wait for the permission of the authorities. The local police sergeant had been on hand all day, fascinated by what the dig had revealed about the pre-history of his territory. A quick phone call was all it took for permission to be given to lift the burial.
For burial it was: no bones remained in the sodden, acidic soil, though stains indicated the probable layout of the skeleton, but throughout the afternoon other artefacts turned up, the last of them proving beyond doubt that their find was Roman. By that time it was Niall and Tim on their knees, with their students crowding round, keeping just far enough back not to collapse the edge of the trench as their tutors worked on into the night.
The gazebo gave up the ghost, ripping down the middle under a single gust of wind, just as Niall raised the final, most precious piece of evidence. Sam felt a burning sense of pride in his friend as the archaeologist wrapped the find in protective plastic and emerged, plastered in mud. One hand cradled it carefully as he gave instructions for filling in and re-turfing, but as he made his way round the end of the trench, the other reached out to wrap round the back of Sam’s head and pull him close for a triumphant kiss. Sam shoved his torch in his pocket and picked up a spade, to join his colleagues in the dirty work of trench filling.
He smiled joyously into the darkness.
08 Aug 2016 Leave a comment
by yvonnemarjot in author, books, crooked cat, Fantasy, fiction, published, Uncategorized, writing Tags: Author, book, Crooked Cat, Fairy tales, fairytales, Fantasy, fiction, newly published, novel, trilogy, writing
All the Wild Weather: available for pre-order, released 11 August 2016 (see below for links)
Hello, Yvonne, and many thanks for inviting me. I’m going to talk about an inspirational building today.
The Clavell Tower is a remarkable construction – a little piece of Italy perched on a Dorset cliff top. It was built in 1830 as a folly, or perhaps a summerhouse, and it has done its fair share as an inspiration to writers. Thomas Hardy is one big name associated with it, and PD James had it in mind when she wrote The Black Tower in 1975. And now, although I don’t count myself in that august company, it has inspired me, too.
The tower has had a bit of a lively history, having caught fire in the 1930s, and then been slowly threatened with falling into the sea as the cliff eroded around it. But then in 2006, it was bought by the Landmark Trust, a charity well known for rescuing unusual buildings. The tower was dismantled stone by stone and rebuilt 25 metres inland. Along with other walkers on the coast path, I watched its progress with interest. When the work was complete the building reopened as a holiday let, and I went to visit it during an open day. I was delighted with its quaint round rooms and brilliant sea views across to the Isle of Portland. It was crowded with visitors that day, but it was easy to imagine it as it more usually is, silent and remote on its cliff top.
I thought of the Clavell Tower immediately when I needed a setting for my novel All the Wild Weather, and although it is my no means an exact portrait, Island View House has several features in common with the original. The round rooms of the tower became the ‘many-sided room’ of my story, where my hero settles down to write a book in peace and finds himself rudely interrupted by some unexpected arrivals. I moved the tower much farther than the Landmark Trust did – all the way from Kimmeridge Bay down to Weymouth – but I did my best to keep its curious atmosphere intact.
The tower is booked solid through this year and 2017, too, but you can at least read about its alter ego, Island View House, in All the Wild Weather, to be published on 11 August.
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Kathy-Sharp-111574195915740/
The Larus Trilogy:
Isle of Larus, http://tinyurl.com/olfyskv
Sea of Clouds http://amzn.to/1wYCPH0
and All the Wild Weather (to be published 11 August, 2016) http://amzn.to/29QyIqJ
Kathy’s Telling Stories: Monday Blog
Meet the hapless Mr Muggington and friends in Mr Muggington’s Discovery and Other Stories http://tinyurl.com/hec25gr
22 Jul 2016 1 Comment
Today I’m delighted to host Jennie Ensor’s novel Blind Side, published on 23 July 2016 by Unbound. Jennie has a fine eye for character, and for creating an atmosphere of discomfort or even menace without giving away too much detail. How well do we know the people we love? I’m looking forward to reading this. Scroll down for an extract from the book.
Tell us about your book/series. What genre does it belong to? What is it about? Are you drawn to this genre in particular, or is this something new for you?
Blind Side is my first published novel, a thriller set in London during 2005, the year of the 7/7 suicide bombings. It leans heavily towards the psychological thriller, though it is not typical of this genre. When pitching the novel to agents and publishers I came up with the description The Book of You (a ‘stalker novel’ by Claire Kendall) meets Gone With The Wind. This may seem an odd combination but it actually gets across a lot of what Blind Side is about. It’s impossible to describe succinctly (well, I have trouble!) – suffice to say there is love, war, sex, politics, jealousy and a whole lot more. One thing the novel looks at is the darker aspects of friendship between the sexes – it may make a few people think twice about being friends with the opposite sex!
The story starts in the run-up to the May general election, with a heated debate on immigration going on. Georgie and Nikolai are at opposite ends of the social status spectrum. She is a marketing professional who wears a suit to work and has a well-off father; he is dreams of becoming a composer but to survive works as a labourer on a construction site. Their relationship is played out against a backdrop of intolerance towards migrants. (There are interesting parallels with Britain in 2005 and the caustic climate of xenophobia in 2016.)
Anyway, going back to your questions… The novel I started first is also a psychological thriller, more of a domestic noir than Blind Side and darker in tone. So I guess I am drawn to fairly dark, edgy stuff. I hate gratuitous descriptions of violence though; I prefer to let the reader imagine the horrible bits!
Who is your favourite character? What particularly inspired you to write his or her story? Is your character warm and winning, or prickly and difficult? How does their personality affect the way you choose to write about them?
Two of my three main characters in Blind Side are prickly and difficult – Georgie and Nikolai – the third, Julian, is a dark horse type, intense and introverted. Nikolai, the Russian who Georgie falls for is my favourite character. He is, like Georgie, burdened by past bad experiences, only he has an outgoing, warm side that is very engaging. When Georgie meets him he has been out of the Russian army for several years, but she comes to realise that whatever he did or saw there has scarred him both physically and mentally.
What inspired me to write his story? Difficult to say, though I knew someone a long time ago who left a big impression on me, and who seemed to be in a constant battle to overcome the emotional wounds inflicted on him as a child. Like many writers, artists and others, his creativity seemed to flow from a disturbance in his psyche. As far as the way I write about Nikolai – I heard his voice in my head clearly and I tried to capture the sound of it in my writing.
What about location? Why did you choose this setting? Do you know the area well? Or is it somewhere you can visit only in imagination? How can your readers best imagine the landscape in which your books are set?
London is somewhere I know well. I was born in the capital, grew up in an outer suburb and have lived in various parts of London for the past decade or so. In the novel I show contrasting parts of London from the affluent parts near Hampstead where Georgie my main narrator lives to bustling, multi-ethnic, much poorer area of Finsbury Park only a couple of miles to the east, where Nikolai lives. Also the novel is firmly grounded in a particular time, a few months before and after the bombing of a bus and underground trains. In the weeks after the 7 July bombings, the atmosphere of the capital totally changed; people were on their guard, wary of each other. This was made worse when a nail bomb (which didn’t detonate) was discovered two weeks after the initial attacks. I’ve done my best to get across what it was like being in London that July, without any explicit descriptions of the bombings or their aftermath.
Tell us something about yourself. Your favourite colour? Favourite animal? Favourite film? Why that colour, that film?
Favourite colour is cornflower blue; I can’t get enough of it. Animal – giraffe. Film – The English Patient – the story, the landscapes, the cinematography, the soundtrack, the acting, Kristin Scott Thomas and Ralph Fiennes… need I go on?
Author web media links:
Blind Side: extract
Julian has been quiet since he arrived. His rigid posture, stick-thin back and clump of pale hair suddenly make me think of a scarecrow.
‘What’s the matter, Jules?’
His eyes fix on mine with an uncanny intensity. Instead of his studious-looking black plastic-rimmed specs – ‘Joe 90s’, I call them – he’s wearing his new contacts. They transform the uncertain haze of his irises to a precise blast of metallic blue. The effect is disconcerting.
‘Oh, just things,’ he replies, finishing his glass of wine. He prods a piece of the tandoori chicken from the local Indian as if a slug has crawled onto his plate. ‘I’ve been feeling a bit off lately.’
Come Away With Me, Julian’s favourite album, is playing low in the background. Nora Jones’ sweetly sad rendition of ‘Don’t Know Why’ seeps through my flat, adding to the melancholy mood.
‘What things? Bridges?’
Aside from his shiny black Jaguar XK8 and watching Formula One races, Julian’s thing is bridges. He specialises in bridge design at his civil-engineering firm.
He scowls. ‘I don’t want to go into it now.’
‘If it’s to do with the earrings… I’m sorry if I upset you.’
‘Don’t worry, it’s nothing. They look nice, by the way.’
‘Thanks.’ I pull my hair back and turn my head to show off my ears, each adorned with a disc of lapis lazuli set in a spiral of silver. ‘I do like them. I didn’t mean to be ungrateful. I was a bit taken aback, that’s all. We never give each other anything for Valentine’s Day. We’re not that like that… ’ I wait for him to look up from the table. ‘Are we?’
Since he gave me the earrings two days ago – he thought I’d appreciate them because I didn’t get any Valentine cards – they’ve sat in their box inside my dressing-table drawer, where I keep things that I’m not sure what to do with: foreign coins, spare buttons and a collection of brooches, scarves and other items my mother has given me over the years. I put them on for the first time fifteen minutes before Julian arrived. Julian has never before given me jewellery; on our birthdays we buy each other silly cards and maybe a cake or a bottle of wine.
‘What do you mean?’ A woolly unease gathers inside me.
‘It’s OK, Jaf. If that’s what you want, I understand.’ He turns his attention back to the table.
Jaf, originally Jaffa, was Julian’s nickname for me at university, when I had a thing for Jaffa Cakes. I got to know him in my final year; we both hung around the same local pubs where certain bands played. At first I saw him as a bit of a geek, obsessed by puzzles and anything with an engine. But it didn’t take long to find the humour beneath his reserve. I got Julian in a way that some people didn’t. Like me, he had issues with his mother. She died unexpectedly, soon after we finished uni, while we were backpacking around India. It struck me as odd that he decided he ‘couldn’t be bothered’ to go to her funeral.
Julian sighs, his shoulders slumping. ‘Hey, why don’t you open another bottle?’
I find the bottle of Haut Medoc that my father gave me. The contents smell like a dusty library but taste pretty good. We chat about the dangers of stilettos; Julian’s sister caught her heel in a drain cover while running for a bus.
‘No one knows what random fluke is going to strike next,’ Julian gazes around the room as if expecting a meteorite to crash through the ceiling. ‘A car accident, an incurable disease –’
‘You’re in a cheery mood.’
Julian pushes himself up from the table. ‘It’s Saturday night ’n’ all. What about a film? I brought a DVD over.’
I take the wine and glasses into the living room and tend to the DVD player. As I sit down on the sofa beside Julian he gestures to the magazine on my coffee table. It has a full-page, near-naked male model on its back cover.
‘That hunk’s been there for a while. Your bit of hot totty, is he?’
‘Well, you know how it is for us single girls,’ I smile. ‘I fantasise about him ringing my doorbell late at night, wearing just Calvin Kleins under his coat. I give him a shot of whisky and he unbuttons the coat, really slowly.’
A small crease appears above Julian’s nose, and rather than laugh as he’d normally do, he says in a low voice, not looking at me, ‘I don’t know why you bother with all these guys. If you don’t want a relationship, why go out with them in the first place?’
‘What guys? There’s been about three in the last six months.’ I scowl at him. ‘I do want a relationship. Just not with anyone.’
‘Not with me, you mean.’ He says it under his breath.
Something has changed between us, a micro shift. I take a slug of wine.
‘You’ve been acting really weird lately,’ I say. ‘Do you want to tell me something?’
He rubs the bridge of his nose, not meeting my eyes. I feel a surge of irritation.
‘Jaf.’ A blotch of red creeps up his neck. ‘You know I’ve always… fancied you.’
Julian has never hidden from me that he finds me attractive. Sometimes he compliments my legs or how I’m dressed. A few months ago in the Hampstead Everyman as we sat in the dark waiting for the film to start, he told me my face had the perfect bone structure. I giggled, nearly choking on my popcorn. Julian is short-sighted and on the scrawny side, whereas the only man I’ve ever been in love with and most of the guys I’ve dated have been strapping fellows. He has a high forehead, straight nose and wavy hair, lighter than mine. Handsome enough in a studious, slightly effeminate way. Like me, he went to a private school. An aristocratic overtone sometimes enters his voice, as if he’s asking the butler to bring him the newspaper.
‘Well, yes, sure,’ I reply. ‘But I didn’t think… ’ I’m up-ended for a moment. ‘We’re pretty close, aren’t we? But we’ve always kept it on one side of the line. That’s what I really like about us. It’s not like we’re in each other’s pockets, we’re not fuck buddies or anything. Are you saying you want to… Well, what are you saying?’
‘Sorry, Georgie, I didn’t mean to confuse you. It’s just… ’ He sighs, running his hand through his hair. ‘I don’t know. Can we talk about it another time?’
Now we’re finally getting to the nub of the matter, I don’t want to let it go. I wonder what’s going on; we can usually talk about anything, pretty much. His dread of losing his hair and his hope to one day become a father. My loathing of being photographed and my secret wish to get a tattoo of a seahorse at the top of my left thigh. His ambition to be his firm’s/the UK’s/the world’s number-one bridge designer. My uncertainties over what I should be doing with my life. The real purpose of bras. The components of dust. And the top ten ways to die – skiing off a mountain (accidentally or on purpose) is the only item we agree on.
27 May 2016 1 Comment
We’ve been here before. But this time it’s darker – more difficult. The Psychic Surveys team have never been busier, but the work is taking its toll, and Ruby’s feeling the pressure. Have they met their match? Here’s author Shani Struthers with an excerpt from the third Psychic Surveys novel:
This is the Psychic Surveys’ teams second visit to 44 Gilmore Street – one of the children that lives there has just been hit by a cup thrown through the air and Samantha Gordon, her mother, has called the team back in.
“Blimey!” Samantha Gordon exclaimed on sight of them. “Talk about send in the cavalry.”
Ruby stepped forward and introduced the members of her team who Samantha hadn’t met yet. Cash had called them on her behalf as they drove back to Brighton and, as usual, they’d dropped everything to help out.
“And you’re all psychic are you?” she asked.
Glancing at Cash, Ruby replied, “To varying degrees.”
Clearly seeing no need to quiz them further, Samantha hurried them into the living room. Her husband – introduced as Jeff – was on the sofa, his arm around his daughter, comforting her. Their son, Leo, was clearly shaken too, cuddling into the side of his sister. Night had fallen and the drawn curtains gave the room a closed-in, claustrophobic feel.
“Oh,” Samantha said, noticing what her son was doing, “so you’re cuddling your sister now are you? That’s a turn up for the books. You were bashing her on the arm with your book earlier.” She shook her head in a show of despair. “My poor lamb, she’s been getting it from all sides.”
The daughter promptly burst into tears. “Mum, who threw that cup at me?”
“That’s what these people are here to find out, Ruby,” her father muttered, “apparently.”
Ruby? So the girl had the same name as her. Although she tried not to stare, Ruby did her best to get the measure of Jeff. He didn’t appear to be a tall man; his legs, stretched out before him, looked on the short side, his belly bulging slightly under a light tee shirt and the hair on his head thinning, despite probably being no more than in his mid-thirties. It wasn’t his physical appearance that concerned her, however, it was the distrust emanating from him. There were some people that didn’t like ‘her kind’, she knew that, and he was one of them. The fact that they’d even got through the door showed that Samantha Gordon really was in charge.
The sound of a door banging within the house – as though slammed in temper – made even the psychics amongst them jump. Samantha’s hand flew to her mouth and her husband let rip an expletive. The young Ruby stopped crying and whimpered instead, her brother deciding to join her.
“What’s happening?” Samantha gasped. “What the hell is going on? I didn’t sign up for this when we bought the house.”
“It’s been worse since you called them in.” Again Jeff was muttering, not speaking to them, not exactly, not even to Samantha, just throwing it out there.
Normally Theo would step forward at this moment, take charge. Her age lent her the authority necessary in such situations. But Ruby beat her to it.
“Right now, the assumption is that Benjamin Hamilton, the previous occupant, might still be in residence. Certain activity occurring in the house suggests that. Before I carry on, might it be a good idea to take the children to their rooms perhaps? I don’t want to unsettle anyone.”
“Unsettle anyone?” No longer passive aggressive, Jeff exploded, “I think you’ve done a good job of that already, haven’t you? Look at my kids!”
Samantha was appalled. “Jeff! Please! We talked about this, we agreed this was the way forward, remember? The way to sort this problem out.”
“I don’t want my kids upset!” he retorted.
“The fact that they are is not Psychic Surveys fault!”
Inwardly, Ruby groaned. They’d barely been here five minutes and already the situation was deteriorating – rapidly. There’d be a full-scale war amongst the living if she couldn’t rescue the situation and quick. “Look, if you’d rather we left, Mr Gordon, I understand, but we’re here now–”
There came a crash from the kitchen, the sound of a plate smashed against the floor perhaps? It certainly sounded like it. Their attention captured, all heads turned to the living room door, expecting the ghost of the tenant past to come hurtling through it and wrap his spectral arms around them in a far from welcoming manner. Trying to play it down, Ruby reminded herself what was really happening. Ben was feeding off the negative energy in the house – the fear – and growing angrier too. Considering he was already at fever pitch, this wasn’t the best news.
Before she could say anything further, Ness came to stand by her side. “We can’t deny that there’s unusual activity in this house – activity of a paranormal nature. And as you say, it’s intensifying. We don’t truly know the reason for that but, if you’ll let us, we’ll do our best to find out.”
A part of Ruby was grateful for her colleague’s firm, no-nonsense approach, but another part bristled. Pride – she must get it under wraps. And insecurity too, because that’s what this was, she realised. She didn’t quite feel the ‘giant’ that Ness was, that Theo was. And she resented that.
Theo also spoke loud and clear but her voice was soothing too. With children in the room, she was careful to tread easy. “Ness is right. We can sort this out, but only with your permission. And please, don’t expect miracles straightaway, these things can take time. And effort. Rather a lot of effort in fact, on everyone’s part, including yours. It’s essential to stay positive… optimistic. This is a beautiful house. I can see how much you love it. You’ve injected it with new life. You don’t have to be at the mercy of what lingers here still. Not if you let us do our job. May we go into the kitchen?”
“Jeff?” There was a warning tone in Samantha’s voice.
Whilst waiting to hear the verdict they all stood perfectly still, Cash’s fingers only slightly brushing hers in a show of support.
Jeff exhaled heavily before speaking. “Whilst you’re busy, what the heck are we supposed to do?”
“Is there a friend you could–”
“No! This is my house! Why should I leave it?”
“Fair enough,” answered Theo, remaining determinedly unfazed by his attitude. “But leave the kitchen to us. Stay, here, in the living room.”
He glared at Theo. “Why are there so many of you?”
“Jeff, stop asking questions. Jut let them get on with it!”
“All I bloody wanted to do was watch the telly tonight. Not much to ask for is it? A Saturday night in with my family and I mean just my family.”
“Jeff!” Samantha said again, her face reddening – with anger or embarrassment it was hard to tell.
“Okay, okay, do what you have to bloody do,” he relented.
“Thank you, Mr Gordon.” As well as seize the moment, Ruby did her best to appease. “We’ll, erm… we’ll try not to be too long
“We all have to face our demons at some point.”
Psychic Surveys – specialists in domestic spiritual clearance – have never been busier. Although exhausted, Ruby is pleased. Her track record as well as her down-to-earth, no-nonsense approach inspires faith in the haunted, who willingly call on her high street consultancy when the supernatural takes hold.
But that’s all about to change.
Two cases prove trying: 44 Gilmore Street, home to a particularly violent spirit, and the reincarnation case of Elisha Grey. When Gilmore Street attracts press attention, matters quickly deteriorate. Dubbed the ‘New Enfield’, the ‘Ghost of Gilmore Street’ inflames public imagination, but as Ruby and the team fail repeatedly to evict the entity, faith in them wavers.
Dealing with negative press, the strangeness surrounding Elisha, and a spirit that’s becoming increasingly territorial, Ruby’s at breaking point. So much is pushing her towards the abyss, not least her own past. It seems some demons just won’t let go…
Facebook Author Page: http://tinyurl.com/p9yggq9
22 May 2016 Leave a comment
A haunting story of love lost, and of the healing only time can bring.
At the summit of a bare hill, on a quiet island in the bleak west of the world, a storm was brewing. Lightning flickered and dark clouds glowered over the hilltop, their rain-heavy bases lit from within by sullen flashes.
A bolt split the sky and the rain sheeted down, half hiding the ground with its jumbled boulders and sparse coating of grasses. For a moment the scene flickered, like a jerky film noir, and then a figure could be seen on the hilltop, curled up in the foetal position, unmoving.
Thunder cracked overhead and the man raised his head, hauling his body wearily after it. He climbed to his feet and pressed them against the ground, as if testing its ability to hold him. On one buttock there was a red mark, where a rock had pressed into his side, but as he stood in the rain the mark bruised and faded, leaving no trace.
He squared his shoulders against the deluge as the clouds roiled overhead. A great shaft of lightning hit the hilltop precisely at his position, limning his figure for an instant in a halo of blue and white. He looked down at his fists, unclenched them and regarded his hands as if seeing them for the first time. He put his head back, staring upward as the rain poured over his face, drew in a deep, shuddering breath, and howled a cry of pure anguish.
07 May 2016 1 Comment
Today my guest is Astrid Arditi, whose romantic mystery A Cunning Plan has just been published by Crooked Cat.
Determined to put her family back together, Sloane Harper stalks her ex husband and his annoyingly stunning mistress, Kate. But she’s not the only one. Handsome IRS agent Ethan Cunning is surveying them too, but not for the same reasons. He is attempting to nail Kate’s playboy boss.
Ethan and Sloane decide to help each other, which sends Sloane’s wobbly life spinning out of control. She’ll have to face danger, humiliation, and scariest of all, the dating scene, to lure her daughters’ father home.
Losing control was the best thing to happen to Sloane… until it turned lethal.
Hello Astrid, welcome to The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet. Tell us about your book.
A Cunning Plan is the first book in the Sloane Harper series. It’s a romantic mystery. Although my heroine’s everyday life shares similarities to my own – we are both stay at home mums with two young kids – the rest of the story is total fiction and my life is way more predicatble (thankfully!) than Sloane’s.
Who is your favourite character? What particularly inspired you to write his or her story? Is your character warm and winning, or prickly and difficult? How does their personality affect the way you choose to write about them?
I’m very fond of Sloane. She’s sweet and loving, funny and totally dedicated to her family and friends. She’s also weak and insecure, although she grows a lot in the book. At the beginning, some readers were shocked at how much of a doormat she is but it’s a truth about her character I couldn’t tone down. It makes you cringe to read it but I actually know many women like her. Fantastic women who have lost their confidence and believe they deserve to be put down. You wouldn’t cheer as much for Sloane if you didn’t know her to be weak, and at least the only way for her to go as the story evolves is up!
What about location? Why did you choose this setting? Do you know the area well? Or is it somewhere you can visit only in imagination? How can you readers best imagine the landscape in which your books are set?
The story is set in London where I live. Most places actually exist or are loosely based on real locations, which helps make the world of the story believable.
How did you come to be a writer? Tell us a little about your personal journey.
I’m cursed with a wild imagination so I’ve always dabbled with writing but my lack of confidence held me back for a long time. Over the last two or three years though, I’ve completed a couple manuscripts and finally came to accept I was a writer. Sending my novel to agents and publishers, then being signed by Crooked Cat, has finally made it official. I can’t wait to start receiving feedback from total strangers!
How do you choose your characters names? Are names important? Do you feature real historical characters, or are they all completely fictional?
For Sloane, I needed a name that conveyed her social status – AKA a WASP. Hence Sloane Harper. For her male counterpart, Ethan, I chose a last name that gave hindsight on his personality – Cunning. My characters are all fictional so all names are made up. I look through baby names’ lists, keep store of all names that strike my fancy. Names are really important to me. They make the characters real.
What’s coming up next? Are you working on a new novel? What else have your written?
I’m meant to start book 2 in the Sloane Harper series. Most of the book is already neatly outlined in my mind, I just need to sit down and write now.
Tell us something about the main character in your next book.
Sloane will be back in book 2 obviously, and so will Ethan Cunning. I’ve got a new sexy character ready to make an appearance in book 2, Felix Leconte. Can’t wait to see how he and Sloane will interact. You can expect sparks!
Who will enjoy your books? How do you connect with your readers?
Women age 25 to no limit. There is a universal truth in a character like Sloane, trying to find equilibrium between her family’s demands and her own needs. Hopefully it should speak to all women looking for a light read and a good laugh.
I’d love to connect with my readers. I’m on Twitter, Facebook and I blog at www.astridarditi.com. I’m also planning to set up an Instagram account for Sloane.
Tell us something about yourself. Your favourite colour? Favourite animal? Favourite food? Why does it appeal to you?
I’ve got a massive sweet tooth. I’ve been promising to go on a diet every day since I’m twelve but I’ve never turned down a cake or a piece of chocolate. Life is too short to eat lettuce.
Who are your favourite authors (or favourite books)? Did these authors help to inspire your writing? In what way?
My favourite all time author is Stefan Zweig. I’m especially fond of his short stories. In a totally different register, I’m a big fan of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. More than twenty books down the line and I still laugh till my ribs hurt.
Astrid Arditi was born from a French father and Swedish mother. She lived in Paris and Rome before moving to London with her husband and daughter back in 2013. After dabbling in journalism, interning at Glamour magazine, and teaching kindergarten, Arditi returned to her first love: writing. She now splits her time between raising her kids (a brand new baby boy just joined the family) and making up stories.
A Cunning Plan is Arditi’s first published work.
30 Apr 2016 Leave a comment
Photo: chalk boulder on the South Downs Way, by Simon Carey from Wikimedia Commons.
Some years ago I wrote a short story inspired by my memories of walking the South Downs Way. I’m thinking of including it in an upcoming short story collection, but I’m no longer sure it’s good enough.
Let me know what you think.
Simon’s breath hissed between his teeth as he climbed the steep, chalky path to the downland meadow. His calf muscles ached and clenched as he trudged his way upwards. Today’s leg had already been a long one, and he had to make a fair way further before night fall if he was to reach the end of the South Downs Way in time to meet Max and Tamsin. If he missed the car he’d be stuck with a long, complicated and needlessly expensive train journey, so he looked down at his feet and plodded on.
Pushing down on his knees at each climbing step, Simon forced himself up the last few feet of the climb and straightened up onto level ground. For a moment his vision faded into redness, and he could hear his heart thudding in his ears, its slightly irregular beat quickening with every indrawn breath, then settling back with the breath out.
He licked his dry lips, trying to stir a little saliva to moisten his mouth, which tasted of very stale chewing gum. Unclipping a bottle from his belt, he took a warm plastic-flavoured mouthful and swilled it round his mouth. Swallowing a second mouthful, he put the bottle away and looked around.
As heart rate steadied and vision cleared, he saw a broad upland field of thin chalky soil, sparsely covered with a sward closely-cropped grass. Stony outcroppings were scattered across the field, gleaming whitely in alternating patches of sunshine and shade as the wind swept clouds across the landscape. The grass was longer nearest the boulders, and seed heads nodded in the wind. There was no sign of any living thing, although trimmed grass suggested sheep and a yellowing bone by his feet supported this supposition.
The air was heavy with the threat of rain, and faint rumbles of thunder muttered constantly in the distance. His untidy hair, damp with sweat, clung to his face and he pushed it away with one hand, smoothing it back behind his ears.
The view trembled slightly as the heat of summer escaped the earth. Roiling black clouds moved steadily in from the east, and the sun gleamed through the shimmering air, bathing everything before him in a strange, brassy radiance. An uncanny feeling crept over Simon and he startled, feeling for a moment as if someone was standing right behind him. He turned, but there was no-one there.
He shivered and, shouldering his pack more squarely, moved slowly forwards, crossing the field diagonally. Chalk pebbles crumbled underfoot and the crunchy sound of his footsteps seemed loud in his ears although their echo was swallowed instantly in the heavy, deadened air. A shimmer of lightning illuminated the cloudbank ahead, and a loud roll of thunder indicated the storm’s approach.
Simon swallowed with difficulty, his tongue dry in his mouth. His skin prickled, and on his forearms all the hairs stood on end. Again, Simon felt he was being watched, and a light breeze signed across his skin, soft as a caress. He shivered again, more violently, and instantly a patch of goose bumps appeared on his left arm. He rubbed the spot, which felt hot and itchy, though his hands and legs were cold and shaking.
Eyeing the sky watchfully he continued to move forwards, feeling with every step a rise in tension. The meadow fell into semi-darkness as the fitful sunlight faded under the storm’s shadow. He felt his energy being sapped with every step, and his footsteps steadily slowed until he came to a halt. Head hanging, he let the pack slip from his back and fall to the ground. It had become very hard to breather, and Simon panted as he lifted his head and pressed a hand to his chest.
Suddenly, a great bolt of lightning smote the edge of the field. As its awesome power whited-out his eyesight, Simon could see imprinted on his vision a pattern of chalk fragments thrown up from the boulder that had been hit. A blast of almost palpable sound swept across the field and struck him where he stood. He fell to his knees and grovelled as the deafening concussion swept over him. Strike after strike hit the field in quick succession, shaking the ground like an earthquake, and Simon curled up on the bony soil, wrapping his arms around his ears and tightly closing his eyes. He sobbed.
Simon lay at the centre of the great storm, shuddering as successive lightning charges earthed around him, deafened by the continual subsonic book of shock waves passing over him. His fear climaxed and passed over into a fatalistic calm: a steady and forthright acceptance. As his mind cleared, so silence fell upon the chalky field. Simon dared to open his eyes, defying the brilliance that played upon his clenched eyelids. His eyes widened. He stared.
All about him, lightning coruscated, sending multiple bolts from cloud to earth, earth to sky, as if in slow motion. The earth no longer heaved in protest, but tossed gently, cradling him with a rhythmic rocking motion.
Above his head, silver lights coalesced to form a shimmering vapour. It roiled and stirred, sending forth a glowing pseudopod to touch his face. Startled, he flinched and the light withdrew, returning to slide down his cheek and neck. Cool and silken, like water in a skin of light, it touched him and he shook.
Unable to move his heavy limbs, Simon lay and watched. Silently, a face materialised n the silver mist. Great lion’s eyes, lit with a topaz glow, fringed with a mane of light, stared at him solemnly. A shining face, ageless and innocent, looked down upon him. She smiled, and Simon felt his heart stop.
Colder and colder he was becoming, leaving the dense, earthly flesh behind. Gradually, he raised himself to meet her, and his body began to settle back and cool into darkness. She frowned. For a moment Simon felt uneasy, and strove to reach her. The silken mouth opened, and he felt her cool breath wash over him. An immense weight struck him in the chest, and its astonishing power swept him into oblivion.
Simon lay quietly, blinking slightly as the water ran into his eyes. He focused slowly on a streamlet of bubbling water, frothing over the white path into the mists. He could hear it chuckling below his resting place, at the edge of the field, where the ground fell away. A droplet of rain glimmering on a seedhead of rye captured his attention and he gazed at it solemnly.
As he came back to himself, he realised he was completely sodden and water from his hair was dripping into his eyes. Simon rolled slightly onto his side and raised his left hand to smooth the hair off his face. He winced at the initial movement, then gasped as pain gripped him. He felt as though giants had danced on his chest. Every muscle ached and tightened, as if he had run a marathon in his sleep.
Groaning, he rolled over and eased himself onto hands and knees. As he hung there a moment, marshalling his strength, he noticed his pack on the ground beside him. The straps were intact, but the waistbelt had been burned away and a great scorchmark marred the side pocket. Like Simon, it was now soaked and smelt odd.
Simon struggled to his feet, breathing carefully, and shouldered his pack. Wincing, he slowly straightened and looked out across the vale. Mist filled every valley, but above the clouds were clearing and a pale sun shone.
Far off to the north-west the dark clouds retreated, making their way to some other hilltop. A brief flicker of lightning teased at the edge of vision, and a strange expression passed over Simon’s face.
Carefully, he stepped onto the downward path, now a chalky rivulet, and began his descent. As he did so a thin rumble of thunder reached his ears and a breath of wind, soft as silk, caressed his face once before passing on, to set the grasses dancing.
17 Apr 2016 Leave a comment
Here’s a short story for a wet Sunday. I donated it to the anthology ‘Writing for Rescue’, which is raising money for an animal protection initiative in Romania.
“Come on, kids, the water’s nearly up to the doorstep.”
Norah balanced the twins on either hip as she wedged one foot and then the other into her Wellingtons. She wobbled as Japh made a grab for her earring, and then stepped off into the water sloshing past her front doorstep. Fortunately the 4-by-4 sat high on its massive tires, well above the water level in the road. At the rate the flood was rising, though, it wouldn’t be long before it was too dangerous to leave.
Sulie pushed past her and wriggled into the middle spot between the two car seats. She deftly buckled herself in, and helped Norah to secure the twins. Jemmy squeaked as his harness clicked shut, then giggled as Sulie tickled his tummy. Norah could feel the pressure of the water flowing down the road. It pushed against the back of her boots. She looked round to see if other neighbours were also evacuating, but all the doors down the street were tight shut. Perhaps they’d left already.
She took a quick head count. In the back of the vehicle Spot and Merry whined in unison, and she could hear the guinea pigs scratching in their travel basket. The lorikeets’ cage was safely stowed on the floor in front of the passenger seat, with plenty of room for Sam’s legs.
Sam. Where was he? A frown creased her face as she worked her way through her worry list. Food – check. Spare clothes – check. Pet supplies – check. Dogs – guineas – lories – rat…
Rats. That’s where Sam would be. She plunged back into the house, not bothering to remove her wellies. Give it an hour and the water would be through the whole lower storey anyway. This weather! She hadn’t seen anything like it in all the years they’d lived in Shottom-by-the-River. For the first time she realised what ‘by-the-River’ could actually mean.
Sam was upstairs, trying to secure the door of the rats’ cage. Pinky and Poppy were huddled together in a pile of straw, staring at him. It was as if they understood what was coming. Norah brushed the hair out of her face wearily before she spoke to him, trying to keep exasperation out of her voice.
“Sam, I thought we were going to leave the rats. There’s no room in the car. With plenty of food and water they can easily last a week.”
“No, I can’t leave them to drown.”
“Oh, honey, the water’s not going to come up this far.”
She injected a note of jolly confidence into her words, but to be honest her heart was with Sam on this one. Who knew what tomorrow might bring, or how high the waters might rise? He looked up at her, white-faced, one hand stubbornly wrapped around the handle of the cage.
“Come on, then. I’ll bring the cage and you carry their blanket.”
Sam stood on the doorstep as Norah waded to the car and deposited the rats on the driver’s seat. Then she carried Sam to the passenger side and decanted him carefully into the seat. “You’re a weight, my boy,” she said, hiding her fears under a joke, as she so often did. “Get yourself strapped in and I’ll give you the rats to hold.” Carefully she made her way back to the driver’s side. The water was already above the tops of her boots, and they had filled with water, the weight of them dragging at her as she walked.
She cast one look back at her front door. There seemed no point in closing it; the water was already lapping at the sill. She perched on the edge of her seat and pulled off her wellies. She tipped them upside-down, adding their contents to the ever-increasing volume of water sweeping down the lane. She shoved them under the seat, along with her soaked socks, and applied her bare feet to the pedals. As she snapped her seatbelt shut she made one final check that Sam’s seatbelt was done up, and the three in the back seat were ready to go. Sam draped the blanket over the cage on his lap, and the silent agitation of the rats calmed.
Norah resisted the urge to watch her house in the rear-view mirror as they drove slowly along the lane. It was only a house. All the important things were right here with her in the car – all but one. The 4-wheel-drive vehicle made short work of the two feet of water in the lane, and surged forwards as they gained the higher ground at the far end of the village. Ahead, perched on the top of the hill, she could see their destination.
‘The Ark and Courage’ had been a pub from time immemorial. No-one knew how it had come by its peculiar name. It was familiar ground to Norah, because before the kids were born she’d been the barmaid there, and then the proprietor’s wife. Now she came to him, bringing all the things that he cared most about in the world. “My wife, my kids, my animals. That’s what matters. Anything else is just window-dressing. You’re what matters to me.”
For the first time that day, Norah began to feel calm. She’d done what she needed to do, and now she wouldn’t have to cope on her own any more. If anyone knew what to do in this situation, Philip Noah would know.
He was there in the doorway as she pulled into the pub car park, striding forward to help Sam with the rats. Norah climbed out and went to open the back doors, but was delayed briefly by his hand on her arm and the warmth of his kiss. She smiled in relief at his kind, wonderful, utterly reliable face. “There you are, Mrs Noah,” he said. “What about this British summer, eh?”
08 Apr 2016 1 Comment
I’m here today with Stella Birrell, author of romantic comedy How Many Wrongs Make a Mr Right? Today is the beginning of Stella’s blog hop, leading up to publication day on 15 April. The book is available for pre-order (links below) or you can join the launch party at https://www.facebook.com/events/453998841462572/ next Friday. Tomorrow Stella will be on Emma Rose Millar’s blog https://emmarosemillar.wordpress.com/ where she’ll tell us more.
Hello Stella, welcome. Tell us about your book.
How Many Wrongs make a Mr Right? is what I’m calling a ‘chick-lit-with-grit’ novel. It’s about a twentysomething girl, Melissa, who is searching for The One (even though she doesn’t really believe in soul mates). More neurotic than erotic, the book combines sneak peeks into Melissa’s past and future, with a mildly amoral year in Melissa’s present, set in 2001.
I love reading women’s fiction, so I wanted to write something that was easy to read, with a happy ending. But there is a lot of darkness for a fluffy story about finding a boyfriend. It’s not a straight memoir, but there are aspects of my own history within the book.
What about location?
It’s written to be realistic, and recognisable, so I felt it was important to write about places that I knew well.
I chose to write about the Lake District: because I used to live there, and Edinburgh: my closest city and also somewhere I lived for a short while. Edinburgh is almost a character itself, I found it such an inspirational place to live and work. The history seeps into you somehow, from the stone.
How did you come to be a writer? .
I’ve always claimed I’m not one of those writers who ‘always wrote,’ but recently I found evidence to the contrary in a box of letters from the loft! As I got older it became more and more clear to me that I should attempt a full length novel.
Combining writing with childcare and a very understanding husband meant I could give up paid work, which gave me the head space to ‘just do it’. The first three years were hard, because you’re writing in a vacuum. The rejections, and there were several, make you question the quality of the writing.
What’s coming up next?
My second novel is currently with the friend who gave me the best advice after reading How Many Wrongs…
There is a third, but to be honest it’s just a twinkle in my eye and half a page of notes so far!
I do have some short pieces coming up in The Ropes Journal, and The Dangerous Women project, and a spoken word piece I recorded for the podcast Lies, Dreaming.
Who will enjoy your books?
I’ve thought hard about my target audience, and I love connecting with people on Twitter and wondering whether they might enjoy reading How Many Wrongs…
I reckon women with small children, in their late twenties and early thirties, who love their kids, but also love getting out once in a while to the pub, would really connect with my novel.
But anyone who has ever had their heart broken, or felt stuck in a place and time, or kissed a frog (and let’s face it, we’ve all been there, right?) will relate to Melissa’s story.
My book is available from the following places
Search ‘How Many Wrongs make a Mr Right?’ in the iTunes Store
How to find me! Please come and say ‘hi’ in one or more of these places
My blog space is https://atinylife140.wordpress.com/
Twitter is @atinylife140
I have a page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/stellaherveybirrell/?ref=hl
Email me at email@example.com
I can also be found wandering the streets of various East Lothian villages.