Month: January 2016

Author Focus – Bev Spicer @BevSpice

bev christmas 2014

I’m very pleased to have novelist Bev Spicer on the blog today. I have read three of Bev’s books and enjoyed all of them very much. My reviews are here:

The Undertaker’s Son

Angels

My Grandfather’s Eyes

Bev’s new novel ‘What I Did Not Say’ is out now and you can read an excerpt on her blog.

full size Jpeg what I did not say kindle

You can also connect with Bev on Twitter.

Tell me a little about your writing history/background. What inspired you to write?

I’m not someone who can say I always wanted to write. I did enjoy project work at school and also wrote short stories to terrify my sisters (they liked end-of-the-world scenarios – the scarier the better!). But it was only when I moved to France in 2008 and couldn’t get a teaching post at La Rochelle University, that I decided to try writing. My first attempt was called ‘A Taste of Lemons’ and was the story of a girl trapped in two parallel universes. I believed it was brilliant but was sensible enough to listen to criticism (it hurt – the first book is a labour of love). Thank goodness I didn’t publish it. I might go back to it one of these days and give it a ruthless edit.

What is the hardest part of writing for you?

I can never stick to a plan. Rather, I have an idea centred around one or more characters. So the problem for me is balancing the freedom to invent and the discipline necessary to produce a plot that has integrity. Endings are the most interesting part of writing, for me. I love the subtle balance required to give the reader just enough to bring everything together.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Writing is like anything else in life: you learn how to do it by doing it! Advice rarely makes sense unless you have experience and can relate to what people are trying to tell you. And if you have experience you know that your writing can always be improved. When I started writing I had tunnel vision. I was unable to take criticism well. The thrill of creating something just took me over. I suppose I would say that it’s better to keep moving forward and at the same time be prepared to go back and edit work as you improve as a writer. And listen to criticism – it really does help to have other writers give you feedback on your writing. The negative stuff is usually more helpful than the praise, even if it is poorly delivered or downright brutal there will be truth in it. I put a YA novel on a writers’ website in order to get feedback before I published. A couple of people said nice things about it and offered constructive criticism. One person slammed it in an angry tirade of abuse. He hated it and told me exactly why. I must admit, I was shocked. My first reaction was to dismiss what he said, but I didn’t publish and still haven’t. The book is verbose at times; the fear in the first chapter is over-stated. It will be a better book because of the hefty dose of criticism it received on a public forum for authors. I must say though, that I try to give criticism as kindly as I can – you have to KNOW that you are trusted.

And of course it’s important to read, read, read.

What are you working on now?

I’ve just published my new novel ‘What I Did Not Say’.

Jessica Morley is on her way to meet with a man she hasn’t seen for fifteen years. In her bag there is a package she must deliver. As she travels south, she remembers Jack Banford, a boy who captured her imagination as a child and made her believe in a future that could never happen. Now it is time for her to set the record straight and finally put the past behind her. ‘What I Did Not Say’ is a story of loyalty, cruelty, and love at all costs.

Who is your favourite author and what is it that you love about their work?

I must say that I enjoy a lot of different authors. If I had to choose one, it would be Margaret Atwood. When I read ‘Cat’s Eye’ I was thrilled and terrified. She captures the venomous nature of childhood friendships and is a master of conveying mood.

Who would you choose to have over for dinner and why?

I’m going off piste on this one… Someone who can cook, obviously. Probably Jamie Oliver because he’s fun, friendly and doesn’t make a fuss. He’s made a huge difference to society’s attitudes to food and nutrition too.

Desert Island Books – what five books would you choose to have with you if you were stranded on a desert island?

‘The Nation’s Favourite Poems’ (BBC) – I have two copies to dip in to, ‘Oryx and Crake’ (Margaret Atwood) – I have to move on from ‘Cat’s Eye’, ‘Ghost Story’ (Peter Straub) – it’s terrifying, something by Shakespeare – probably ‘Anthony and Cleopatra’ (I’d learn all parts and perform the whole thing on the beach), and I know this will sound pretentious but I learned Latin at school and I enjoy a good challenge so I’d take ‘The Iliad’ and work out a translation – after all, I’d have plenty of time and no one to tell me I was wrong.

Tell us something unusual about yourself.

I don’t know whether it’s unusual, but I love astronomy and astrophysics. Can’t get enough of ‘Schrodinger’s Cat’, ‘Does God Play Dice?’ or quantum theory in general. Oops! I’d need more than five books on my desert island…unless there were multiple universes.

Oh, and I spent most of my weekends as a teenager with my father on a Welsh mountain learning to fly gliders. Cold, wet, and wonderful.

Find a copy of Bev’s latest book here.

Advertisements

Writing Tip – Lying/Laying #wwwblogs

A quick writing tip post today about one of the issues that comes up over and over again when I’m editing – confusion over the verbs ‘lie’ and ‘lay’.

These words are probably the ones that are used incorrectly the most in the writing projects I’ve worked on.  If you get confused about the correct forms to use, it might be worth keeping a note close to your work space – even a post-it stuck to your computer screen.

It works like this:

‘Lie’ is an intransitive verb – it doesn’t require an object; it means ‘to recline’.

Its principal parts are:

‘lay’ (past tense – and probably the cause of most of the confusion)

‘Lain’ (past participle)

‘Lying’ (present participle)

Jane lay down on the bed for a nap half an hour ago.

She had lain in bed all day.

Jane was lying on the bed. She had been lying there all day long.

 

‘Lay’ is a transitive verb – it requires an object; it means ‘to place’ or ‘to put’

Its principal parts are:

‘laid’ (past tense)

‘laid’ (past participle)

‘laying’ (present participle)

 The chicken laid an egg.

The chicken had laid an egg.

The chicken was laying an egg.

 

If you lay a book on a desk, it is now lying there NOT laying there.

When you go on holiday, you may spend time lying on the beach NOT laying on the beach (unless you are a chicken and you’re laying an egg on the beach).

If you lie down on the sofa to watch TV, you might spend the evening lying there – you DO NOT lay on the sofa and spend the evening laying there, unless, again, you are a chicken.

If there is an egg on the ground, it is lying there. If the chicken is involved, she may be laying the egg on the ground.

To add a bit more confusion, ‘lie’ also means to tell an untruth. Its past participle and past tense form is ‘lied’ and its present participle form is ‘lying’.

 She had lied too often.

He lied to me.

Stop lying to me.

He was lying to me.

A word of caution – don’t always trust the green squiggly line in spelling and grammar check – it sometimes gets confused too!

chickenatbeach

bigdamnband.com

‘Stiff’ by Mary Roach #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

stiff

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

I have a bit of a fascination with death but I’m not a morbid person. I just feel that it’s a normal part of life (after all, it happens to everyone) that we tend to ignore, or hide away, or pretend doesn’t happen. We don’t want to know the details, the realities. And I think that this reluctance to recognise death and its processes, the rituals around it, have made us less connected to it, and, in turn, more fearful.  We’ve made death something secret, unknown. This book lifts the lid on death, detailing practically everything that could happen to you once you’re dead, including unusual after-life occupations such as being a crash test dummy, becoming part of an exhibition, helping surgeons learn their art, helping scientists understand decomposition or, if you go the more traditional route, what happens in a cremation or what happens once you’ve been buried.

It sounds morbid, but it isn’t. Roach’s writing is funny, respectful, warm and informative. I don’t believe in a god, or a heaven or an afterlife – I’m very happy with this one, thank you very much. There’s nothing once you’re gone and it seems a terrible shame to me that bodies that could do so much good and help so much are literally allowed to go to waste. I’ve always made my feelings known to my family – researchers can have as much of me as they want. I don’t want a funeral or a grave that my children feel indebted to visit when I’m not even there and all they’re doing is making a crematorium owner very rich. How much better will it be if my no longer needed remains help find a cure for a disease, or help investigators to improve safety in transport. And what’s left I’d be happy to have made into compost (you can have this done you know!). Roach’s book details all of these options and more, with warmth and honesty.

For a book about death, it was weirdly uplifting, and life-affirming. All we have is the here and now, and death is a part of life. We are so uniformed; we make death into something horrific and other. But as Roach so clearly and entertainingly shows, it’s part of being human and it’s something we should know more about.

4.5 out of 5

New work in progress – ‘Chiaroscuro’ #wwwblogs

I’ve finally completed the research (as far as I can) and have at last put pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard, anyway) and begun my second full-length novel. All through the research, I kept myself on track by writing regular blog posts, something that I’m going to continue to do during the actual writing. Hopefully the posts will be interesting to others, as well as giving me a focus!

The idea for this novel has been in my mind for a very long time. Almost ten years ago I was studying for a degree with the Open University. One of the modules included a study of Eugene Delacroix, the nineteenth century French romantic painter, and involved an analysis of his paintings, including The Death of Sardanapalus’.

sardanapalus
Delacroix’s painting fascinated me. It’s so vibrant, the colours are so vivid; there’s so much detail, so much going on. Sardanapalus, an Assyrian king, watches dispassionately as everything he owns, including animals, slaves and concubines, are destroyed. His kingdom is under siege and he would rather everything was obliterated than left to the invaders.

This got me thinking. About Sardanapalus, about his concubines, about the man who painted it all. What stories lay behind the women who were Sardanapalus’ slaves? And what about Delacroix himself, his life, his art? And the models he used? What would it be like to work with an artist like him? These ideas were all jumbled together and have remained so for the last ten years or so. Somehow, I’ve managed to put them all together in a storyline that covers three different eras, three very different women and three very different men. The novel will range from the sixth century BC to nineteenth century France and into 21st century England.

Why the title ‘Chiaroscuro’?

Chiaroscuro is the Italian for ‘light-dark’. In art it refers to strong contrasts between light and dark. Delacroix was known as a master of colour, and he took this contrast to extremes, bringing a sophistication to the technique. In ‘The Death of Sardanapalus’, he uses contrasts of light, of shadow, halftones and bold brushstrokes to create vibrancy, a sense of life and movement in the face of death. I hope to carry this theme through the novel, into the lives of my characters; the lights and darks of their worlds, their relationships, the events that shape them. It’s a bit daunting, but at least I’ve finally made a start.

‘Do Not Wash Hands in Plates’ by Barb Taub #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

This account of wonderful writer and blogger Barb Taub’s visit to India is the perfect antidote to a cold and miserable January.

DO NOT WASH HANDS IN PLATES

The story of three women eating their  way across India in search of adventure, elephants, temples, palaces, western toilets, monkeys, the perfect paratha… and the kindness of Indian strangers.

Once upon the Land Before Time (or at least before mobile phones), my two best friends and I decided to leave the US from separate locations and meet up in Europe. To everyone’s shock, Janine, Jaya and I pulled it off—mostly because we went to Luxembourg, a country so small the odds in favor of chance street encounters were almost 100%, but also because Jaya was carrying the BS, a blue suitcase so enormous it took up approximately a third of the country’s square footage and was visible on satellite images. We couldn’t possibly miss.

 It took over thirty-five years before—in a combination of optimism and failing memories— we recklessly decided to repeat this feat. Hey, we reasoned, now we’ve got smartphones, better credit ratings, wheeled suitcases, medical insurance, and the ability to drink legally. Just to make it more interesting, this time we chose to meet in India, where the odds against the three of us actually linking up were approximately a bazillion to bupkis.

Excerpt

Despite blizzards, canceled flights, de-icing delays, and an adjacent passenger who had made unfortunate food choices resulting in alarming gastrointestinal events, I arrived in India. The theory was that I would fly in from my home in Scotland, Janine would come from Washington DC, and Jaya would meet up with us at the airport. Nobody who knows any of us thought for a second that this could really occur.

Actual conversation at Passport Control, Mumbai:

Janine: “Well no, I don’t have my friend’s address or phone number. But she’s going to pick me up at the airport. She lives in Gujarat. That’s in India.”

Passport Control: (SO not impressed)

I arrived before Janine. As far as I could tell, the Ahmedabad Airport was staffed by the entire Indian army, each soldier carrying a honking huge gun. I grabbed my suitcase and exited baggage control into India. Noise. Chaos. People, dogs, honking horns, more people. More soldiers. More guns. Dozens of sincere men who called me “Sister” and suggested they could take me anywhere on the planet I might want to go.

No Janine. No Jaya. And, apparently, no way to get back into the airport. After several failed attempts at international texts, I realized I could (at heart-stopping expense) send email to Jaya, who soon confirmed that she was on her way and that it was 3:00AM so I should go back inside. Except there were signs everywhere saying you couldn’t go back in.

“No problem.” Jaya explained that rules in India are more like guidelines. “People in India are very kind. Just ask.”

I’ve been living in the UK where rules are inviolate and graven in stone, so I didn’t believe a word of it. But the soldier at the door listened to my plea and waved his AK-Humongo to usher me back inside. There I found Janine attempting to send email or text. I reminded her neither option was likely for two technologically-challenged, jet-lagged, middle-aged ladies in a foreign country at 3:00AM.

In the end, we wandered over to the door and to our mutual amazement found Jaya waiting for us along with a hired driver and a van. Apparently lightning does strike again, because just like thirty-five years earlier, the three of us actually managed to meet up in another continent.

What could possibly go wrong from here?

16467214421_472f86395e_o

My Review

Barb, Janine and Jaya have been friends for more than thirty years. They once managed to successfully meet up in a different continent and decided to try this again with a visit to India.

Barb (originally from the US) travels in from Scotland, Janine flies from Washington, and Jaya, who lives in India meets them at the airport. And so begins a fabulous trip, documented brilliantly in this very funny memoir.

If you read Barb’s blog (and I strongly recommend that you do) you will be expecting sharp, witty writing, clever observations and the feeling that you’re listening to an old friend telling you about her travels. And that is exactly what you get. Barb tells it like it is and paints a realistic, vibrant picture of a colourful country.

Much of the trip seems to have been spent eating and the descriptions of the food and hospitality are wonderful to read. Wildlife, culture, architecture and people are all beautifully and fondly depicted but this is far from a romanticised view. Horrendously dangerous driving is par for the course and Barb’s very funny account (sorry Barb!) of her unfortunate case of ‘Delhi belly’ tells of a rather worrying ease of access to strong medication!

This is a lovely way to spend an afternoon with your feet up, immersing yourself into the colours, smells and sights of a fascinating place, but do be warned, you might just find yourself hankering after a visit yourself!

five-stars

Find a copy here.

 

 

 

 

‘Gimme Your Hands’ #DavidBowie

I’ve thought long and hard about writing this post. I’m quite a private person, and I don’t like to use this blog to express my personal feelings or thoughts to any great extent (although I have made exceptions in the past). And my blog is also there for my business – and I like to be professional. Also, I feel as though in some way I’m intruding on someone else’s grief, selfishly indulging in feelings that aren’t really mine to have or to share. But I’ve had this post buzzing round my head, refusing to go away. So, here goes…

bowie 2

I was a very strange teenager. Awkward, lanky, insecure, painfully shy of others and cripplingly terrified of their opinions of me. My family and the few friends I had at the time would probably be quite surprised to hear this, but what goes on on the surface isn’t always the same as the turmoil that’s raging beneath. I knew I was ugly, gawky, weird. I had strange thoughts and compulsions, strange fears (that I now know are OCD). I didn’t fit in, had very few close friends. School was an absolute torture. I was desperately unhappy, most of the time.

My tastes in music were quite pedestrian. I was a Duranie, in love with John Taylor and convinced one day I’d marry him and be taken away from all this misery. I liked their music, still do, but it wasn’t really about that. Then in 1985, I watched Live Aid. I was aware of David Bowie, liked some of his stuff, but we weren’t a very musical household, so other than my sister buying ‘Ashes to Ashes’ in 1980, he wasn’t really on my radar.

That changed that day in 1985. He blew me away. Those songs literally changed me – ‘TVC15’, ‘Rebel Rebel’, ‘Modern Love’ and, of course, ‘Heroes’. The following Monday I bought ‘Rebel Rebel’ and a few other singles – you could still buy singles then – and played them over and over. I remember one of the B-Sides was ‘Queen Bitch’. What a revelation of a song. I became obsessed.

Bowie became the focus of my life. I bought album after album whenever I could afford it. I watched his films (my poor mum sat through them all with me, even ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ – rather awkward). I read everything I could (actual books – no Google back then!). There was so much to listen to, so much to learn. I felt as though a whole new world had been opened up to me.

And it had. The beauty of this new obsession was that it led me to so many other things. Directly to Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Pixies and, through Ryuichi Sakamoto via ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’ to Japan, the band, not the country! Discovering these bands led me further. I started reading the NME and Melody Maker, discovering the back catalogue of The Smiths, who I adore still, and bands like Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Sisters of Mercy, TheThe, Bauhaus. Band after band, song after song that seemed to speak directly to me, to understand me, to recognise how I felt. It was the beginning of a massive transformation.

As the eighties drew to a close, I began to change. I went to see Bowie in June 1987, the ‘Glass Spider’ tour. I was still a bit geeky, a bit unsure of myself, a bit frumpy and uncool. By the time I went to see him again on the ‘Sound and Vision’ tour in August 1990, I was about to leave home, having been accepted on a journalism course. I was a different person – black eyeliner, black lipstick, black fingernails, cut off Levi’s, Dr Martens, a Gene Loves Jezebel t-shirt. I was finding my way, gaining my confidence, accepting myself.

The following month I met the man who was to become my husband. He was obsessed with Bowie too. We discovered we’d been at the same two concerts. It felt like fate.

I’ve had my ups and downs over the years. As a family we’ve been through a lot – house moves, redundancies, the death of my mum from cancer. All the good things, all the good times, and all the bad things, the bad times spring to mind when I hear certain songs – more often than not a David Bowie song. At a family gathering on Boxing Day, my brother-in-law asked who we would meet, if we could meet anyone. Without a second’s hesitation, both Gary and I said ‘David Bowie’. And now that he’s gone, I can’t think of anyone else, anyone who has the same pull, the same aura, anyone who is anywhere near as interesting.

At 7 o’clock on Monday morning, Gary sent me a text saying simply ‘Bowie’s dead’. I didn’t know what to do except burst into tears. It felt surreal. It still does.

Yesterday, Gary and I went to the Bowie mural in Brixton (I’ve always been inordinately proud that I was born in Bromley in 1969 and so actually lived, for a few years, that close to the man himself!). This was weird for us. We don’t do that kind of thing. After all, we didn’t know him. It seems disrespectful to try and share in that grief. But we are grieving. He was a big part of our lives. It’s not an overstatement to say he changed music, he changed culture. He did. And it’s not an overstatement to say he changed my life. Because he really did. And reading some of the messages scrawled on the walls around the mural in Brixton, I wasn’t the only one. Those messages are some of the most touching, heartfelt and moving things I’ve ever read. Many people have quoted lyrics from his songs that meant something to them. For me, these are the words that really spoke to me at fifteen, and that remind me now that I don’t have to feel the way I did then:

Oh no love! You’re not alone
You’re watching yourself but you’re too unfair
You got your head all tangled up but if I could only
Make you care
Oh no love! You’re not alone
No matter what or who you’ve been
No matter when or where you’ve seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain
You’re not alone

Just turn on with me and you’re not alone
Let’s turn on with me and you’re not alone (wonderful)
Let’s turn on and be not alone (wonderful)
Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful (wonderful)
Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful (wonderful)
Oh gimme your hands.

Bowie-193-1024x683

Photo Credit BrixtonBuzz

Do Not Wash Hands In Plates ~ by @barbtaub #Travel #Memoir #Humour #SundayBlogShare

Really looking forward to reading this 🙂

Between the Lines ~ Books’n’Stuff

  • PlatesAuthor: Barb Taub
  • Photography: Jayalakshmi Ayyer/Janine Smith
  • Category: Travel, Memoir, Humour
  • five-stars

Once upon the Land Before Time (or at least before mobile phones), my two best friends and I decided to leave the US from separate locations and meet up in Europe. To everyone’s shock, Janine, Jaya and I pulled it off—mostly because we went to Luxembourg, a country so small the odds in favor of chance street encounters were almost 100%, but also because Jaya was carrying the BS, a blue suitcase so enormous it took up approximately a third of the country’s square footage and was visible on satellite images. We couldn’t possibly miss.

Jpeg

Barb, Janine and Jaya decided to arrange another get together and chose to meet in India. Barb was travelling from Scotland, Janine from Washington DC and Jaya, who lives in India, would meet them at the airport. A recipe for disaster? But no, they…

View original post 344 more words

Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT The Promise Of Provence by @patricia_sands

My review of The Promise of Provence for #RBRT

Rosie Amber

Today’s team review is from Alison, she blogs at alisonwilliamswriting.wordpress.com

Rosie's Book Review team 1

Alison has been reading The Promise Of Provence by Patricia Sands

25546135

The Promise of Provence by Patricia Sands

I’m not really a romance fan, but I was drawn to this book because I love France. But I admit I was a bit wary.

The beginning of this book really draws you in. Katherine goes home after a long day at work hoping to celebrate her anniversary but instead finds her life falling apart. Her husband has left her for a younger woman. Katherine is devastated, and her reaction is portrayed sympathetically and authentically. In too many books these scenarios are treated in a rather cavalier way – the feisty (god, I hate that word) protagonist seems to bounce back and quickly finds love or strength or whatever – but here Katherine suffers, questions herself and definitely hits those lows.

View original post 308 more words

#WritingCompetition – still time to get your entries in! #wwwblogs

writing comp

Written a short story over the Christmas break? New Year’s Resolution to get you name out there and submit more stories? Why not try Sandalle’s Short Story Competition? The closing date is 30th January so there’s still time for a final proof and polish.

This is a brand new competition that is relatively cheap to enter – the entry fee is only £5.00, with money raised helping to fund the prizes. The Sandalle group is a very small and very dedicated group of writers, poets and actors who give up their free time to help other writers, running competitions and events and giving critiques. So by entering this competition you might not only win a prize and have a writing credential for your writing CV, you’ll also be helping a dedicated group of volunteers.

There’s another incentive too. If the winning writers have a novel they’re hoping to submit or publish, or one that’s just been sitting in a drawer, I will provide a free assessment of the first three chapters.

Sandalle’s Short Story Competition

First Prize: £120.00 plus free assessment

Second Prize: £75.00 plus free assessment

Third Prize: £50.00 plus free assessment

Theme: The Key

Word length: 1200 words (maximum)

Fee: £5.00 per entry. If you would like a story critique, please add £2.50.

Closing Date: 30th January 2016

Please send two copies of each entry, a cheque (payable to Sandalle), an S.A.E and a separate sheet with your personal details to:

Sandalle
c/o Gwyn Hall
Orchard Street
Neath
SA11 1DU

Good luck and please do spread the word!

Remember – the closing date is 30th January.

Guest Post by Alison Williams – 10 things new writers should know

Very pleased to be a guest of fantasy author Suzanne Rogerson today. Do check out her informative and interesting blog.

suzanne rogerson fantasy author

I first came across Alison Williams in 2015 when I was looking for a professional editor to give ‘Visions of Zarua’ a final edit before I self published. I had thought the novel was pretty much ready, but Alison suggested many areas of improvement. In all, I cut 10k off the word count!

She has been a huge help to me through the editing and self publishing stages, and here she offers her advice to all new writers. Thank you, Alison…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ten things new writers should know

  1. Writing a book is hard. It’s a long process. It will take up lots and lots of your time. Don’t be fooled into thinking you can write a 50,000 word novel in a month – NaNoWriMo has its uses but what you write in November is certainly not the finished article.
  2. While you might love writing, when you’re supposed to be writing other things will take on a…

View original post 594 more words