Thursday, 25 May 2017

Diana talks to Nicki Herring, MA student at West Dean College.




Nicki Herring is an MA student at West Dean College, studying Creative
Writing and Publishing. For this she has to complete the first draft of a novel.
 

I was fortunate enough to read this when I was in hospital last year and it is
wonderful, even in draft form. I really look forward to seeing it on the shelves soon.
 
Hi Nicki. I am really delighted to chat with you. I am sure there is a question that you have always longed to be asked. Now is the chance.

If you could afford to leave midwifery and concentrate on writing full time would you do it?

Oh yes!

If your latest book,This Place of Happiness, was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?

If I had my choice of leading ladies I would have Emilia Clarke as Rabia, Leila Bekhti as Amal and Elyes Cherif Gabel as Ali. I think Emilia has one of those lovely mobile faces that hide nothing, and I imagine Rabia like that. Leila comes across as far more serious, much like Amal, and Elyes is Algerian but also very English, and exactly how I imagine Ali.

Elyes Cherif Gabel
 

What made you choose this genre?

I never sat down with a cup of tea and chose a genre, and I find it hard to define novels like that. I had a story I wanted to tell, but if you want a few pigeon holes think family sage… coming of age… LGBT…

How do you get ideas for plots and characters?

I get my ideas in two ways. Initially through daydreaming. Lots and lots of daydreaming. When I go to bed at night I make up stories. I see my stories like films and my aim in writing is to convey what I imagine as clearly as possible. Later, as a story develops and I research the people and the location other things come together that might affect both plot and character. In This Place of Happiness the grandmother had been a café bomber during the Algerian War of Independence, and this reaches out into other parts of the story, affecting and changing them; but I didn’t wake up one day and decide that I wanted a café bombing granny in the story.

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!)  you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?

I would like to write the sort of romance where you arrive at the end in tears, and feeling emotionally wrecked. I have a big hang up about writing them though. The worst mark I ever got for creative writing at school was a B when I went off-piste and turned a piece of description into a love story. I was devastated because if there was one person in the world I wanted to impress it was my English teacher. Maybe one day…

Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something that you drifted into (or even something so compelling that it could not be denied?) How old were you when you first started to write seriously.

I remember the first time I wrote creatively. I was eight. It was a ghost story, and a moment of discovery when I realised that words could be played with. I nearly got myself into gear properly when I was twenty five, and seriously considered leaving midwifery and going to University to study English Literature, but then I got married, there were bills to pay and life was busy and I had a son to raise. I have spent the past two years on the MA in Creative Writing and Publishing at West Dean College. It has completely changed my relationship with writing, because having taken time to take it seriously other people have realised that I am serious too.

Marmite? Love it or hate it?

I wouldn’t say no to Marmite if I was starving; but thankfully I’m not. :-D

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??

In a perfect world it is between eleven o’clock at night and four in the morning. I’ve got some sort of documentary in the background, and I have a cup of spicy chai tea. The house is quiet, and there is no chance of being disturbed.

I write most productively in my study, but write anywhere. All I need is a pen. I’ve written notes on my hands if I’ve nothing else. I’ve even used the blunt end of a knife to emboss a napkin in a restaurant so that I wouldn’t forget an idea.

I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters?

My family wins every time; but that isn’t to say I don’t get grumpy if I have to choose. When my study door is closed they know they can only come in to offer top-ups in a tea cup.

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?

My dream job was being a community midwife; but after being ill a few years ago I work in a hospital. I don’t have a dream job other than writing, and am planning on taking early retirement at 55 so that I can see what I can achieve if writing full time.

Coffee or tea? Red or white?

Tea, weak and milky with no sugar, thank you. A very occasional glass of red.

How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way?

I have a plan when I start but am open to change, and I write in steps of around 1500 words. When I settle down to write I know where I want to go, and spend the next couple of hours getting there.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?

I like Cambria, but all I would insist on would be serifs! As the daughter of a letter press printer I’ve never had a favourite, because all those little pieces of type have their place.

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?

I would love to find a document that explained where my Huguenot ancestors came from in France. My family tree gets stuck in the late seventeenth century, and I would love to get further. (Note from Diana. So would I!! Nicki and I share these elusive Ridout ancestors!)

Have any of your characters ever shocked you and gone off on their own adventure leaving you scratching your head??? If so how did you cope with that!?

None of my characters have ever shocked me, but thirty years of nursing and midwifery has left me fairly unshockable. I relish when they are real enough to start doing their own thing. Writing is a constant adventure in finding out what happens next.

How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips?

I love research, and spend hours exploring… from the armchair. I haven’t been able to go on a research trip for This Place of Happiness, because although Algeria is trying to promote its tourist industry the government website here does talk about foreigners being kidnapped. I’m not very brave. I would like to go to Morocco to get a sense of place and culture.

Fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot?

In my first draft I killed off over 300 people in a massacre, a bombing, a few run-ins with the French authorities and a revenge attack or two. My current draft is far quieter. I’ve only planned one death so far.

Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this?

In This Place of Happiness there are references to things that didn’t happen, but to me the important thing is that they could have happened, and that similar things did often happen. I want it to have an authenticity, which is different from accuracy.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?

Midwives write accurate, contemporaneous records reflecting actual events and decisions. As a writer I have a complete freedom to do anything I want, and there are no lines between fact and fiction.  There’s just story. It’s superb to have so much freedom.

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?

I am rather in love with my character Ali, the baker’s son. But he would never notice me. He’s gay.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?

I read constantly using a kindle. It means that I can carry three or four hundred books in my bag, and I will give up the smell of ink and the rustle of the page to be able to do that. My kindle goes everywhere with me. Any spare two minutes are filled with reading.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?

A really decent neat whisky. Something smokey.

Last but not least... favourite author?

My favourite author at the moment is Umi Sinha. Her novel Belonging is a breathtakingly lovely look at the relationships between different generations and cultures across two continents.

 Nicki, this has been brilliant. Thank you.
© Diana Milne January 2017 © Nicki Herring May 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Diana talks to M.A. student Mark Peter Howe


Mark Peter is studying on the MA in Creative Writing and Publishing at West Dean College. For this, he has completed the first draft of a novel. He writes poetry, was Highly Commended in the Bridport Prize for Flash Fiction in 2012 and Shortlisted in 2016. He runs a writer's group and mentors aspiring writers. 

Hello Mark Peter. It is a real pleasure to welcome you to Diana talks.

First things first if your latest book, The Divine and Sexual History of Timothy Finch and April Golding, was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?
My protagonist is a young man, based on me. I rather fancy Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Love Actually, Game of Thrones).

What made you choose this genre?
First novels are often based on the author’s life. It’s what sprang into my mind when I realised I have to write a novel for the MA. It was then months of work to transform it from memoir into a work of fiction but eventually it took on a life of its own.

How do you get ideas for plots and characters?
I always fret about not getting ideas and then, when one is really needed, it appears. The subconscious is teeming with stories that just pop up when you ask them.

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!)  you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?
Want to explore short story and also stretch the potential of Flash Fiction: ‘the love-child of poetry and short story.’

Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something that you drifted into (or even something so compelling that it could not be denied?) How old were you when you first started to write seriously.
Long story. Drifted for years and made a conscious decision just a few years ago. I was suspicious of writing courses as I’ve known so many people who did one and promptly stopped writing. However, when I saw the West Dean course, I knew that’s it and I was not disappointed. It trains you not only to write but to be a writer.

Marmite? Love it or hate it?
The thing I love most about being English is our extraordinary language – its literature, history and ongoing evolution. Second thing, Marmite.

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??
No, just write! I think lucky socks and mugs, and all that, is just pants. Actually, I do have favourite pants. (Laughed!!)

I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters?
Quite often, they’re the same people…

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?
Having started late, I only want to write. When not writing, I enjoy wandering through woods, gardens, the seashore. Will you employ me? (Um ... I only have a vacancy for someone to carry things upstairs that should be upstairs and to carry things downstairs that should be downstairs. Just send your CV!)

Coffee or tea? Red or white?
Coffee am, tea pm, red evening.

How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way?
This first novel was exploratory and I loved the way it took on a life of its own. However, it’s not an economical method and next time I will plan in detail, always leaving space for the unexpected.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?
I ask my partner who is a designer and font-freak. (Do ensure that your partner checks out d.arcadian, letterpress seller extraordinaire! That is me doing the day job!)

Have any of your characters ever shocked you and gone off on their own adventure leaving you scratching your head??? If so how did you cope with that!?
Love it when they take on a life of their own. You can always edit them later.

How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips?
For this novel, research was largely through memory and the imagination. I did visit a couple of locations and speak to people from the time the story is set (sounds like time-travel but I hope you know what I mean). Of course, Google has revolutionised research: in seconds I could look up how to install electric fencing for cattle, or the topography of a particular Scottish stone circle.

Fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot?
Yes, they are a pain. I don’t like killing so I do something much more satisfying: fictionalise them.

Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this?
This is a really subtle operation, which depends on the context, the readership and much else. For instance, my setting is a community which is fictional but based on an existing one. I need to be respectful and faithful to the people who lived, and are still living, there. Literary ethics.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?
Always. The writer’s job is to be a reliable pilot and steer a course between the two. What is a fact? Even in science there is no such thing, only probability. Fiction can describe emotional truth.

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?
Unlike life, you can love the ones you hate, because you’re in control, you created them to start with, and you can spend happy hours plotting their comeuppance. 

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
I enjoy so many contemporary writers but, while admiring and envying the masterly writing, I have questions like: Why have they written this story? What is it really about? What does it do to me, the reader. The Nobel winner, Orhan Pamuk, has written a wonderful contemplation of these questions in The Naïve and Sentimental Novelist

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?
I make this ‘power-drink’, more for writing than reading:
Half pt. water (not too cold)
Half pt. apple juice
Juice of 1 lemon
1 crushed garlic clove
Knob of grated ginger
Invigorating, and it cleans out the sytem after all that coffee, tea and red wine.

Last but not least... favourite author?
Your first loves never leave you: Lewis Carroll at age 5, Tolstoy at 16. Contemporary? So many… maybe Armistead Maupin.

Thank you, Mark Peter. I really enjoyed that. Let me know when you have completed the course! I will happily review your book for you.

© Diana Milne January 2017 © Mark Peter Howe May 2017






Nicky Moxey reviews Fortune's Wheel by Caroline Hughes



Today Nicky Moxey gives her debut review for the Review with Fortune's Wheel by Carolyn Hughes. The author has kindly offered a signed paperback giveaway if the winner is in the UK or an e-book if the winner is elsewhere in the world. The draw being made on Wednesday 31st May. To be in with the chance of winning a copy, simply comment below or on our Facebook page. 
Good luck!




 “Many folk no longer trusted the Church: angry that Meonbridge was left without a priest for two whole months, they didn’t understand why God’s ministers on earth couldn’t prevent the mortality’s terrible spread. …When … it was clear it made no distinction between those who might be considered sinful and those who were entirely innocent, and especially when it took even God’s own servants... while they were ministering to their flock, it was beyond anyone’s comprehension why God reviled his people so much that he would allow, or even demand, such suffering.”


Meonbridge is a village reeling from the savage onslaught of the “Mortality”, plague. Every family has been devastated. The old 14thC order has broken down - nothing will ever be the same again. There isn’t even the comfort of knowing that a loved one’s soul has gone to Heaven; the Church is preaching that the plague is a punishment for sins committed, and as the priests were often amongst the first to die, people died not only in agony, but unshrived.

Alice att Wode loses her husband and one of her sons to the plague, but her other son, John, survives. In fact, he gets chosen to be the village reeve, charged with making sure that the villagers pay their dues of farm labour to the Manor – much easier said than done, when the villagers know the value of their suddenly scarce labour! 

The story is told from the viewpoints of Alice and John, and Eleanor, the lady who hopes he will court her. Carolyn Hughes writes excellently strong female characters, and the depth of period research is clear without ever being in your face. This is a tour de force for a first novel, with a rich plot full of interesting little side stories, illustrating beautifully what life was like for both the Lord of the Manor, and the villeins and cottars who were not permitted to leave the land. Alice and her family are somewhere in the middle of the hierarchy, freemen, able to talk to both ends of the social spectrum.

The only quarrel I had with the plot is the search for Alice’s daughter Agnes, who runs away just before the Mortality strikes, and then reappears towards the end. I’m afraid I would have been just as happy if she had died; you have no opportunity to get to empathise with her, and she seems to have no real role to play in the new village order, other than her baby turning out to be the by-blow of the heir to the Manor – now dead; so the babe is accepted with open arms.

This book is about humanity’s resilience in the face of terrible disaster. I’d like to leave you with this affirmation of life:


“I’ve hardly time to kiss my wife with all the flour I’ve got to grind for the feast.’ Susanna giggled and Henry planted on her cheek a light, moist and dusty kiss. Alice smiled at them both. The mill had at last returned to a place where laughter was heard daily, where the gossip was once more of betrothals and rumours of scandal and news from abroad. She was willing to believe God was once more smiling upon Meonbridge.”

About the author:

Carolyn Hughes was born in London, but has lived most of her life in Hampshire. After a first degree in Classics and English, she started her working life as a computer programmer, in those days a very new profession. It was fun for a few years, but she left to become a school careers officer in Dorset. But it was when she discovered technical authoring that she knew she had found her vocation. She spent the next few decades writing and editing all sorts of material, some fascinating, some dull, for a wide variety of clients, including an international hotel group, medical instrument manufacturers and the Government. She has written creatively for most of her adult life, but it was not until her children grew up and flew the nest, several years ago, that creative writing and, especially, writing historical fiction, took centre stage in her life. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from Portsmouth University and a PhD from the University of Southampton.
Fortune’s Wheel, the first of the “Meonbridge Chronicles”, is her first published novel, and a sequel is under way.
Links: Facebook: CarolynHughesAuthor; Goodreads; Website and Blog; Fortune’s Wheel available on Amazon.


About the reviewer: Nicky Moxey lives in the middle of rural Suffolk, UK, and is owned by a slinky black cat who's far too clever for her own good. In her spare time, she is an amateur historian/archaeologist, and in non-work daylight hours is usually out on a field somewhere with a metal detector and/or a trowel. She has added quite a few things to the Heritage England Record and the Portable Antiquities Scheme; but what really fascinates her is the stories behind the artefacts. Her first historical novel is about the story of a local boy made good - Wimer the Chaplain was born in Dodnash in Suffolk of a poor Saxon family, but made it to be a confidant of Henry ll, holding down the job of High Sheriff for all Norfolk and Suffolk. Then he gave it all up and came home to found a Priory... finding the original site of that Priory (not where it's shown on the map) is still one of Nicky's proudest discoveries. This should be published in the second half of 2017, touch wood. SheI also has a self-published series of children’s’ short stories about Henry Baker, a boy who finds a magic pencil on the way to school - she has no idea where these come from, but enjoys writing them immensely! 
Nicky's website can be found at nickymoxey.com

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Diana talks to M. J. Neary


Hello! Happy to welcome you here to Diana talks 😍 






First things first I am sure there is a question that you have always longed to be asked. Now is the chance. Ask your own question and answer it!
One question people ask me is why I am so allergic to happy endings. People have a very narrow understanding of what happy endings entail. Sometimes it’s not about a boy and a girl ending up together. Sometimes it’s about a nation shedding a tyrannical ruler, even if many boys and girls die in the process. I am a very spiritual person, and I believe that we already can have a happy ending with our Creator.

If your latest book ‘The Gate of Dawn’ was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?
If I could not get an obscure European actress, I’d have to stick with (gasp) Dakota Fanning, or her sister Elle. But honestly, the New York based dancer who modelled for the cover would’ve done a marvellous job. Her name is Logan Devlin, and she dances and models in NYC.

What made you choose this genre?
I’ve already been writing hard core historical fiction for a number of years, so it was a matter of choosing the topic versus the genre.

How do you get ideas for plots and characters?
I get plot twists from real life and just embellish them. If you write historical fiction, you get to work around concrete historical events. In the case of “The Gate of Dawn”, I worked with a folk legend / family history.

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!)  you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?
I am already writing in every genre that comes to me naturally: historical, political satire, cyber punk. I could never write romance or a straight-up mystery.

Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something that you drifted into (or even something so compelling that it could not be denied?) How old were you when you first started to write seriously.
I’ve always had a very cinematic imagination, so writing came very naturally. However, I encountered a lot of discouragement from my family, for some weird reason. I did not start writing commercially until my late 20s. By then I had a portfolio of short stories and novel drafts. The first publishing contract is very encouraging, so you start working on your backlog.

Marmite? Love it or hate it?
Never tried it. The substance looks nefarious.

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??
My only “ritual” is ignoring the needs of my family and my cats.

I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters?
As a working mom, I’ve mastered the art of multitasking and listening to multiple voices at the same time. One time, my Siberian cat Rory walked into a burning candle and sat his tail on fire. Of course, I had to take a break from writing to make sure he did not burn down the whole house.

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?
I already have a number of dream jobs. I work for a foreign exchange company and have a side business in cat breeding. My little boy Rory has fathered three litters in 2016.

Coffee or tea? Red or white?
All of the above. That’s why I have acid reflux.

How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way?
If the novel is based heavily on a particular historical event, and we know how the story ends, I don’t need to do as much plotting.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?
Something that’s easy on the eyes. I am not a pretentious diva.

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?
Hah! Bulmer Hobson’s marital separation agreement. For those who don’t know, Hobson was the protagonist of my two Irish novels “Martyrs and Traitors” and “Never Be at Peace”. He was an Irish revolutionary of Anglo-Scottish stock and Protestant faith. His marriage to Claire Gregan ended in a separation, though nobody knew the circumstances. I used my dirty imagination to fill the gaps.

Have any of your characters ever shocked you and gone off on their own adventure leaving you scratching your head??? If so how did you cope with that!?
I totally let them! I am not some control freak. I believe that  my characters exist in another dimension and have their own egos and wills, so I listen to them.

How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips?
Given my professional and parenting responsibilities, I don’t have the luxury to go on trips, but I have worked with international libraries and befriended scholars.

Fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot?
I would rather make a character suffer than kill him/her off. Killing someone off is too easy.
Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this?
Any fact is open to interpretation. If you feel like you need to twist history too much, then you are better off labeling and marking your work as alternative history.
Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?
I don’t fall in love with characters. It’s the other way around. First I fall in love (or grow to hate someone) and then use those emotions as a fuel to build a character.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
I normally do  not read commercial bestsellers. I gravitate towards other authors published by small presses. It’s not just an act of solidarity. I truly think that small presses take chances, and you are more likely to find something surprising.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?
There is a brand of beer called Baltika. Definitely try that. It will make you feel like you’re in rural Lithuania.
"Find the pic you find is the hottest" said Marina, " I just want to be hot, that's all!."
I will leave it to the male readers to determine if I have complied with the author's request (wink)
You can find other books by Marina J. Neary here (UK) and here (US and rest of the world)
© Diana Milne January 2017 © Marina J. Neary May 2017