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


 








Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Adrift by E. J. Bancesco, a review by Diana Milne





About the book:

A return to his native Romania offers a unique opportunity for Boston architect Luca Leontin to come to terms with his past; instead he becomes enmeshed in the vengeful designs of a man with whom he shares a life-long history of passion for art, as well as an indelible bitterness over the love of one woman. Luca finds himself drawn to the Circe, the infamous Bucharest night club, where the illusion of erotic fulfillment could cost him his life. From a totalitarian society that crumbled in December, 1989 to a contemporary world gripped by fear of international terrorism, Adrift is a study of cultural dislocation and the ensuing alienation that triggers both our yearning to return to our origins and the hopeless need to find what is lost forever. This is a story of obsession and revenge, and, above all, the survival of love despite the corrosive action of lifelong mistrust and suspicion.

This year I have been fortunate in reading some outstanding new authors and E. J. Bancesco is up there with the best of them. Bancesco's superb and well crafted debut novel "Adrift" had me gripped from page one and I fell totally under the spell of charming, confused, suave, vulnerable, urbane and very human protagonist, Luca Leontin. By chapter three found myself more than a little  infatuated! Luca is so well written, so approachable, I also wanted to protect him, sensing that under the urbane sophistication there was the child and adolescent that never fully grew up; one who was still reaching to find his past.

A serial adulterer, Luca has left his revered wife and daughter safely in the capsule his mind has reserved for worship and travelled to his native Romania for the first time for many years. Whilst on the train journey across Europe, he begins to read one of his old notebooks, reviving memories of his first loves, Daria, Maia and Adriana  and his conflict and rivalry with artist Alecu Moldovan over the love of one of these women and a picture, two pictures, drawn by our eponymous hero.

Reading these memories causes in him a nostalgia for the days gone by, but with it a fear that they would come back - Luca is now a man of fifty, but one feels that his emotional make-up remains deeply entrenched in his adolescence.

In essence we have two stories in one book; the story of the younger Luca, told through his notebooks and memories and through reminiscences with family members and friends. The author has cleverly used his 'voice' to emphasis this, the younger Luca passages being told in a far more hesitant way as if feeling his way in an unsure world, and the older Luca is a smooth and flowing style. Whichever voice Bancesco is using, the prose is elegant, thoughtful and evocative. The descriptions of the view from the window of the train were so beautifully written, yet using such a very few words, that I can still picture each scene as it is passed.

"When he opened his eyes, it took him a moment to ascertain whether he was awake. The train was gliding without the slightest sound, dream-like. The sun had descended somewhere ahead, and the ripe, soft light left in its wake cast long shadows across the valley outside the window. In the distance, the Alps rose blue and diaphanous."

Scenes from his childhood remain as etched in my memory as in Luca's ...

"The Siret of that time still had its wild beauty; it flowed pristine and chill as a mountain river, rarely warm enough for bathing. Carp and perch hadn’t yet routed the chub, the sucker, and all those sparkling wild fish."

 
Beautiful, memorable, powerful words.
 
Depending on whether the time that is being talked about is in the past or the present, Bancesco skilfully alternates between 1st and 3rd person and this adds greatly to the sense of time and place. Another clever ploy by the author is used very effectively. Characters, for example Tante Amalia, have their own 'verbal tics' making it easy to distinguish one from another and adding to the rich fabric of the narrative and the realism of these people. 
 


Random characters drift in and out of the story, weaving their threads in the tapestry of our mind - the German man on the train, the man with an Adam's apple as big as an elbow - cameo appearances that add a richness and depth to the fabric and an indelible imprint on the reader.

Occasionally throughout the book I wondered, 'why is the author telling me this?' but however long I had to wait, there was always a reason and no random bit of information was casually dropped into the narrative without reason.

On an ill fated trip with his daughter Emma in 1990, Luca and Emma encounter a group of gypsies who utter piros - red - often and with great emphasis whilst playing cards. For ever afterwards, all either one of them had to do was to utter that word piros, for the whole of that journey and time to come alive. I loved this delightfully human observation. The whole of a Cornish holiday was evoked in my family by the words, 'Pig, pig, pig.'

Unusually for me, I read the book very slowly, pausing now and then to better digest the story line and to not waste a word. The book is classified as the genre 'Cultural Heritage' but here are so many other categories in which it could comfortably sit with it's historical element in the first half, the love stories, the travel and suspenseful second-half embracing terrorism, intrigue and murder, the revolution and downfall of the Ceaușescu regime.

Romanian history over the past 60 years was interwoven with the story in a way both necessary and shocking. I feel ashamed that I knew so little, only what we in the UK were fed by various news agencies with their own agenda.  The account of the revolution in 1989 was accurate and moving. Luca by then was living in America and he gets the detailed news from his friend Gabriel by letter. It is  painfully realistic account and like often throughout the book, I had the impression I was reading something far more intimate than a novel.

Through the life and words of Luca, Bancesco explores the nature of love and how it alters or stays the same through the ages. During the course of the story, in various ways, he re-meets all the previous loves of his life and finds them (and himself) changed and yet unchanged. I found reading about love and the thin line that can divide love and desire in a man a fascinating insight. So often this is a subject that is written about (often in a cloying and sentimental manner) by a woman, so to read a realistic account of the way a man's mind works on this subject was enlightening and refreshing and also not so very different from the way a woman's works, when stripped of all sentimentality........

During the course of the book Luca experiences the sexual love of many women, but in such a beautifully written way and so subtly talked about that there is nothing offensive or smutty, and  the reader is left feeling that Luca would care for any woman in his life and never boast about them as conquests, even in his own thoughts.

After he encounters the enigmatic Florentina, sent by the even more enigmatic Irina, in his habitual night time haunt, the famous or infamous Circe nightclub in Bucharest, things begin to take on a sinister note and he finds himself part of an international espionage mission, which nearly gets him killed.

Coming full circle on his return trip and hoping to again meet Lujza, he returns to the strange club, Hébe-Hóba, (the site,in the first part of the story,  of one of the most erotic cooking scenes I have ever read.)

He stopped across the street from the two-story corner building and looked at the neon sign hanging unsteadily above the door. The street level windows were boarded up, a detail he couldn’t have noticed before. In the morning light, his surroundings seemed at once strange and familiar. That moment of uncertainty reminded him of “The Secret of Dr. Honigberger,” Mircea Eliade’s spine-chilling story of a student who goes on a quest for the whereabouts of a disappeared physicist—his former professor—and finds himself knocking at familiar doors, haunting familiar streets, but gradually sinking in the realization that somehow he had been cast into another time. Luca wondered how the sight of two boarded-up windows could trigger in him such a disturbing sense of estrangement. He knew that he would never again walk through the door of that nightclub. The prospect of being face-to-face with Lujza for one last time, if only to share a square of almás pite, seemed as absurd an undertaking as time travel.
 
As reviewer Simone Camilleri so eloquently puts it:
 
 .... in the end we discover that Luca has not gone adrift without recourse. That is, in and of itself, a redemption, for it returns him to the hope and optimism of his childhood, as this epigraph for Part 1, so aptly highlights:

"… the green paradise of childhood loves … is for many a future in reverse, an obverse of hope in the face of the gray purgatory of adult loves."
 
This is an outstanding book and I urge you to read it both for  the enjoyment of an exceptionally good story, beautifully told, and for the sheer joy of reading Mr. Bancesco's beautiful words.

Adrift is available from Amazon.co.uk (click here) and Amazon.com (click here)

About the author:
Born in Bucharest, Romania, E. J. Bancesco graduated from the Institute of Architecture in Bucharest, in 1975. In 1983, he and his wife immigrated to the United States and they established their home in Boston, Massachusetts.

From 1998 to 2003, Mr. Bancesco studied advanced painting at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston. In 2005, he accepted a position of Principal at an internationally renowned architectural firm, and since then, has been practiced his profession domestically and across the Far East Asia.

Passionate about art, literature and music, Mr. Bancesco is a tireless writer.  His first novel Adrift, is the fruit of nearly 20 years of literary labor of love.  Currently, he and his wife, Luminitza, live in Chicago, Illinois.  They have a daughter who works for an NGO, on international humanitarian projects. 

© Diana Milne: May 2017

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Diana talks to Paul Bennett, author of "Clash of Empires" - book one of The Mallory Saga.


Author’s interview – 2017. Diana talks to...Paul Bennett

 

Thanks so much Diana for inviting me to answer some very intriguing questions. It was a lot of fun.

It is my real pleasure, Paul.

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!

Is it really possible for any citizen of the US to grow up to be President?

Sure is…look at who we have now.  L

If your latest book (Clash of Empires) was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?

 

I’m going to glean from Lonesome Dove and choose Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall, younger versions mind you than the characters of Call and McRae.  Tommy for Liam and Duvall for Daniel.  For Liza again from Lonesome Dove, Diane Lane. 

(You may read Rob Bayliss's review of this excellent book here but please note the competition is now closed.)

What made you choose this genre?

Firstly my love of history.  All through my educational phases up through 3 years of college, I was far more interested in history classes or other classes that delved into our past.  At Wayne State University in Detroit, MI, I majored in Classical Civilization, basically the study of ancient cultures form the Mesopotamian Crescent through the Roman Empire.  I also minored in Physical Anthropology.  After I left college, needing a break from 18+ years of school the last 5 of which included working full time, I found myself free to read what I wanted.  Mary Renault got me hooked on historical fiction and later Colleen McCullough’s First Man in Rome series sent me searching for more.  Boy what a treasure trove of books to choose from.

How do you get ideas for plots and characters?

Surprisingly perhaps, while driving to and from work.  My commute is a lengthy one, and the Boston area traffic is always a challenge.  So I have at least an hour and a half for my Muse to do her stuff on my way to work and then again on the way home.  Mostly that is plot related ideas but sometimes specific narrative or conversations find their way to the surface.  I’ve even had to a couple times tell Wanda, that’s her name, to slow down.  Sometimes she starts giving me ideas for book 4 or 5.  Let me get done with number 2 first, please.  J 

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?

Either humor or fantasy.  I write journals of an annual golf trip I make with 3 or 4 of my buddies and they are rather humorous in content.  But I think I would do fantasy.  I have a few tales about a group of warriors that are stuck in some kind of time travel existence and are transported to various historical battles such as Gettysburg where they play prominent roles in the outcomes.  It’s fun playing with history.  In the Gettysburg story, Lee doesn’t make the mistake of trying to take the Round Tops, and the Confederates win at Gettysburg, due in some small part by my group of warriors.

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 dabbled with writing most of my life, doing the odd short story and trip journals/stories but I didn’t take on a full length novel until "Clash".  I am indebted to many people for encouraging me write "Clash", among them SJA Turney, the author of the excellent Marius Mules series (among others as well).  He and the others who read my first attempts saw something they liked and that reinforcement kicked me into gear, so to speak.  So much so that I’m making Clash the first story in The Mallory Saga – I will follow the family through the course of the history of the USA.  Right now I plan to finish the saga with the end of the Plains Indian Wars in the late 19th Century.

Marmite? Love it or hate it?

First I have to Google it.  J (Laughing here.)

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

I do most of my writing in the pre-dawn hours partly because my three night/12 hour shifts at work has wreaked havoc on my sleep patterns, but also partly because I’ve always loved the early morning.  Accompanied by cups of good, strong coffee – freshly ground and as freshly roasted as possible – and with one of my playlists blaring in my headphones, I wait for Wanda and when she is ready, my fingers start dancing along the keyboard.  The playlist I am listening to as I write this includes a mixture of goth bands such as Within Temptation, Nightwish, Leaves Eyes etc and the angelic, mystical Loreena McKennitt. (NICE)

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?

Since I write mostly when everyone else is asleep I rarely have to make that choice but if I’m in the throes of Wanda’s ministrations, I’ll finish what I’m writing and then address my 4 ½ year old granddaughter’s request for food or to have her tablet recharged.  J

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

I am 65 – my dream job is to not have to need one.  J  A short jaunt down memory lane: when I was in my early 20’s I was what you might call a hippie.  A young man just discovering what the world was really like and trying to figure out my part in it.  I would often comment that all I wanted to be was a Forest Ranger assigned to some fire tower in the mountains where I could spend my time writing the great American novel.  Of course that didn’t happen and I have spent the last 40 years working as a computer professional.  (What a wonderful dream...)

Coffee or tea? Red or white?

Coffee – but only really good coffee, like I get from my friends at Thanksgiving Coffee. J  Red or White – that would be better phrased Ale or Stout.  Not a wine drinker but do enjoy fine ales, stouts and porters.

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

I’m not much of a plotter, more of a seat of the pants approach.  Of course, I have a basic idea in my head for the foundation of the story.  I have a notebook in which I jot down ideas, dialogue etc, but most of the work is done when I am hovering over the keyboard.  It amazes me when I have a sudden epiphany; a thought just hits out of the blue and when I look back at what I’ve just typed I often remark I didn’t see that coming. 
I would be guilty of a heinous sin if I didn’t at this point sing the praises of my editor, Marguerite Walker II.  She takes those amazing epiphanies and coaxes even better ones out of me.

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

I did Clash in Georgia 12…the aforementioned MW found an article on good fonts for books and we went with Georgia. (My favourite serif font.)

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

The scorecard from a Detroit Tiger game on which I had gotten the autograph of my favorite ball player, Al Kaline.  It regretfully was stolen roughly 50 years ago.  (Very cross and unhappy face.)
 
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!?

Not yet…but it’s early in my writing career.  I have characters who demanded larger roles, however.  J

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

Most of my research is online or by reading books about the subject in hand.  I do love road trips though so for Clash I did visit Forts Ticonderoga and William Henry.  The next couple books in the Mallory Saga take place during the American Revolution.  I am fortunate in that I live 20 miles north of Boston so don’t have to travel too far to follow along, say, the Battle of Lexington and Concord or Bunker Hill.

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?

The one who springs to mind is George Armstrong Custer.  Since this isn’t in Clash I don’t mind this little spoiler…in my Gettysburg story, I kill off Custer.  J

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?

To the best of my knowledge, I stayed true to the historical facts in Clash.  My only deviation was changing the date of a battle by a couple days.

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

My editor would argue that I like Liam more than his siblings, Daniel and Liza.  Methinks she may be right.  As far as hating a character, there are a couple of them, but one dies early on.  The Shawnee nemesis of the Mallory’s, especially Liam, is a warrior named Huritt.  I don’t want to say too much, suffice that Huritt is a good example of his culture; one that could be brutally violent. 

There are a couple characters in Clash who end up playing a much larger role than I had originally intended, but I had so much fun with them, I couldn’t say no when they requested more face time.  Wahta is a Mohawk, his name means Maple Tree and he is built along those lines.  He becomes a good friend of Sergeant Glyn Mulhern, an Irishman serving in the British Army under a Scottish Colonel.  I loved writing the byplay between the two of them.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?

I read quite a bit, I’ve done close to 200 reviews in 4 years.  Most of them are historical fiction from various periods of history.  I’ve learned more about the history of Britain the last couple of years than I had in the prior 63. J  I must admit that my favourite periods are ancient Greece and Rome.

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

Ale – there’s a good bit of ale drinking in Clash of Empires.  Might as well join them for a pint or two.

Last but not least... favourite author?

A question that is difficult to answer given the number of authors who I count as friends, so, I am going to try to offend no one by choosing an author not of the historical fiction world.  Kurt Vonnegut gets my vote with Mark Twain a close second.  J

About the Author

Paul’s education was of the public variety and when he reached Junior High he discovered that his future did not include the fields of mathematics or science. This was generally the case throughout his years in school as he focused more on his interest in history; not just the rote version of names and dates but the causes.

Paul studied Classical Civilization at Wayne State University with a smattering of Physical Anthropology thrown in for good measure. Logically, of course, Paul spent the next four decades drawing upon that vast store of knowledge working in large, multi-platform data centers, and is considered in the industry as a bona fide IBM Mainframe dinosaur heading for extinction.

Paul currently resides in the quaint New England town of Salem, Massachusetts with his wife, Daryl. The three children have all grown, in the process turning Paul’s beard gray, and have now provided four grandchildren; the author is now going bald!



You can find Paul:

His Facebook page


On Twitter

Email: mallorysaga@gmail.com


© Diana Milne January 2017 © Paul Bennett 03/27/17

 

 

 

 

 

















Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Guest blog from Jeanette Taylor Ford: The difference between writing for children and adults.

Jeanette Taylor Ford has just released her first children's book, Robin's Ring, and I was intrigued if there is a difference between writing for children and writing for adults.  After chatting with her for a while, I asked her if she would please write a short guest blog about her findings on the subject. Whilst Jeanette and I both realise that other authors may have different thoughts, this seems to me to be a very good starting place with some sound advice and wise thoughts!!


 
 
When Diana asked me to write this guest blog on the difference between writing for adults or children, I became worried, for when I started to think about it seriously, I realised there are quite a few things that both adults and children like in a book.

1.      Action

2.      Engaging Storyline

3.      Characters they can identify with/have feelings for

4.      Happy Endings

5.      Humour and other emotions

6.      Familiarity

7.      Twists in the story

 

Those of us of a ‘certain age’ spent our childhood with Enid Blyton. She has been much maligned in the intervening years but there is no doubt that she had great influence on the children of my era and since; she invited children to go on adventures with The Famous Five and The Secret Seven that we could only dream about. She did something very important – she inspired imagination.

 

If we look at other successful authors, such as Roald Dahl, they have done the same thing; they have caught children at a relatively young age and invited them to use their imagination. After all, who wouldn’t want to visit a wonderful factory full of sweets and chocolates that they could help themselves to wherever they walked? (My visit to Cadbury World was interesting but nowhere near matched Willie Wonka’s place.) Who hasn’t wished they could do something nasty to a hated teacher or made things happen at will? My children enjoyed the thrill of the Enormous Crocodile being thwarted by child-loving other jungle animals and never tired of hearing me read ‘doing the voices’. J.K.Rowling has every child – and every adult with a child within – wish they had been to Hogwarts and could do magic.

 

Writing ‘Robin’s Ring’ was my first venture into writing for children and then I adapted someone else’s true-life story about a dragon for very young children, with the person’s permission. When that same person read ‘Robin’s Ring’, he announced it was a novella. I said, no, it was a book. We argued about it; I said that it was shortish and simple-ish for children of that age. He said that we shouldn’t underestimate children’s abilities. The difference was that my work was with children and I understood that not every child is as able as his grandchildren were. I understood that many children struggle to read, do not like reading, aren’t encouraged to read by their parents and teachers seriously lack the time to give individual attention to the children in their class who find reading hard.

 

Now, we all know that children vary, their abilities vary, parents vary. (I apologise to certain authors who won’t like my repetitive word there!) As a general rule, small children start with books that are mostly pictures with few words. They progress on to books that have a few more words with the pictures but they have repetitive phrases that four/five year olds can remember and love to sing out when sharing a book with an adult. They also love tactile books; children love to handle books, put their fingers through holes, lift up tabs. Then they go on to slightly more ‘wordy’ books, still with pictures. (Don’t we all know about ‘Biff and Chip’ – stupid names for children, in my opinion but kids don’t seem to think that way at all.) The Biff and Chip stories start simple and get a bit harder with progressive ability; they are great stories, especially when they start using the magic key.

 

So, what is different about writing children’s books?

 

1.      Children get put off by large descriptive passages (as do many adults). I found that descriptions of people and places had to be kept as brief as possible. By the same token, children don’t like long paragraphs so divide them up as much as possible.

2.      Speech has to be such as a child of that age would speak; they use shortened versions of names of their mates and they actually don’t waste words, unless they happened to be like one of my grandsons who can tell a brief tale in a very long way! However, said grandson would not like to read his own way of telling something in a book. We had a discussion on The Review recently about ‘he said, she said’. When we write for adults we try to cut that sort of thing to a minimum; in children’s books it has to be clear who said what, so ‘he said or she said’ is used much more. This is an art I haven’t quite got right yet but I’m working on it.

3.      Language used in a children’s book has to be much simpler, less complex in sentence construction. We have to put ourselves in the place of the children who are likely to read the book and ask ourselves ‘would they understand that word if they were able read it in the first place?’  Many children who have English as a second language can actually read the words but, when questioned, don’t have a clue what they’ve read about. It’s easy to get the wrong idea about these children’s abilities when they read out loud perfectly. Having said that, there’s nothing wrong with using a word hard to read but actually would be understood once the child has figured it out. Children use and understand more words when speaking and listening so don’t be afraid to use them in a book; they do have to learn what those words look like in print.

4.      Children who don’t read so well are put off by large books with loads of pages. They are much more inclined to go for something thinner and more likely achievable. We know that children love the Harry Potter films but there are not many children of ages 8 to 10 who would tackle reading the books and there is no doubt that some of the later books are more suited to teenagers rather than children.

5.      With point 4 in mind, then, the story has to be told with no ‘airy-persiflage’, no long-winded speech or ‘getting around to it’, no filling pages with irrelevant stuff, just to make it look longer. Children want action; they want things to keep moving and they have to want to begin the next chapter. (No different to adults there really.)

6.      Pictures are still important, even if they only occur now and then throughout the book. Children will examine pictures thoroughly. ‘They’ say a picture paints a thousand words and this is so true and necessary for children’s books. A child can be put off reading a book that has no pictures.

7.      Children love humorous things, silly names, red pants with spots, long noses and snot! A book that is full of such things is bound to be a hit, especially with younger children.

 

Having said all of that, there are children who will read Harry Potter or Treasure Island at nine or ten and not care about pictures at all. No teacher is going to say ‘you can’t read that’, the choice is always that of the child, just as it is for adults. I have to honestly say that, when I’ve been hearing a child read at school, I’ve often thought, ‘this is boring, I wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole’ but the child reading it is engaged and likes it, so who am I to judge?

 

So, as I said earlier, writing for children in many ways is similar to writing for adults but some of the ‘rules’ that we try to follow when writing adult books have to be put to one side in order to make sure the child reader understands and doesn’t get bored. Much simpler language, fast action, believable speech of the modern day; painting a picture film with as few words as possible and creating a setting whether real or imaginary that children will immediately get into. They are not going to wait until page ten for something to start happening. The golden rule is: ‘Know Your Audience’.

 

When I originally wrote ‘Robin’s Ring’, I wrote it with the idea of getting children local to my area interested in the surroundings that they take for granted and see every day. The children at ‘my’ school loved it and it really fired their imagination. To my surprise, children who didn’t live here also liked it so then I started to think about publishing. It’s taken me four years to come to this point. I hope many more children will come to be interested in Robin and his magic ring.

About Robin's Ring:

Who will help The Adventurer recover his Items of Power, thrown back by magic into time? When Robin finds a ring in his garden, he has no idea that his dreams of adventure are about to come true. With his cousin Oliver, the ten year old boys are carried away on their quests, guided by the clues that appear before their eyes on Robin’s computer screen. This is the first of Robin and Oliver’s adventures with Edric and The Items of Power.

Available from Amazon.

© Jeanette Taylor Ford May 2017



 

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Diana talks to... Lizzy Drake, author of The Elspet Stafford Mysteries




Hi Lizzy, lovely to meet you. Let us crack straight on...hopefully this will be a lot of fun and enjoyable for both of us and our readers
If your latest book A Corpse in the Cipher was made into a film, who would you like to see as the main character?
 

Oooh, great question! Who would play Elspet and who could be the Dowager? I would love the historian Ruth Goodman to play the Dowager – I think she could get the expressions perfectly (though she’d need a lot of makeup to look much older). As for Elspet – someone new and fresh who could act well.
 
What made you choose this genre?

I wasn’t always interested in Tudor – but Tudor kept chasing me. My MA was in Early Medieval Archaeology but I ended up doing an internship at an Early Tudor building in York (Barley Hall). Then I ended up joining a Tudor dance group, and then re-enactment… well, you get the picture. Tudor was stalking me since before the millennium. I ran at first, but now, to get revenge on the era, I write murder mysteries set in it.

How do you get ideas for plots and characters?
I first wanted Elspet to be disabled in some way – I wanted her to have the eyes and ears and brain to collect all the information she needed and solve crimes in the Tudor court, but she surprised me when I started writing. She refused to have a disabling illness or have been born with any problem that would have hindered her chances at marriage.
So, I needed another character to balance out Elspet’s youth and beauty. That, of course, is Elspet’s partner is crime-solving, the Dowager Duchess Lettice, a cantankerous personality whose glares have more power than even Medusa’s and whose tongue can clip even Thomas Howard short.
Where Elspet is shy, the Dowager is bold. Both are clever but with Elsept’s fresh approach, the Dowager’s mind gets the workout needed to enjoy life again.

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 used to (and still do sometimes) write teen fiction. I mean the dark, urban folklore teen fiction that keeps youngster’s paranoid and up at night wondering what that scratching in the closet was.
But my next series, I’m pretty sure, will be set in the Victorian Era. And not a murder mystery, though still histfic.

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.
How old? How serious? Does Attack of the Killer Sandcrabs at 8 years old count?
I’d always written, but after I’d married and moved to the UK, I had some spare time before my next job (I ended up working first at Unwins Wine Merchant, then Colchester Archaeological Trust). Between job applications, I drafted a teen fiction based on historical events in Coggeshall, Essex. It wasn’t much good – it sits still in my bottom drawer, filled with red pen – but it relit the fire for writing and after that I wrote another teen fiction which won an award.
Marmite? Love it or hate it?
I grew up in the US and during my postgraduate degree I used to make fun of the horrid ‘oil slick’ on my British roommate’s toast. I had some on a bet and never went back. I love it!

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??
I must sit at my special chair. I must have silence. I must… eat. I can’t help nibbling when I write. Flaming Cheetos are my favourite, followed by a tall glass of milk.

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?
I’m not sure what you mean… All of my characters are family 😉

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?
Everything, anything. Jewellery making, realtor (what I’m doing now in my day job), lifeguard, shop owner, garden designer, park ranger. You name it… I’ve probably done it!

Coffee or tea? Red or white?
Green tea. Depends on the meal. Usually I go for water. I forget what I’ve poured if I pour a hot drink and then it’s too tepid. I can’t drink more than half a glass of wine without slurring my typing, so… milk (if with Cheetos) or water. Boring, eh?

How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way?
I plan it all out. Then it goes differently when I write. My characters are both divas and bullies. Especially the Dowager.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?
I’d go for some hand-written style that looks like Anne Boleyn’s.

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?
The ciphered letters that Catherine of Aragon sent to her father when she was between husbands.

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!?
OMG all the time! I replan everything and see where the heck she’s gone off to now.

How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips?
Loads. For book 1 of The Elspet Stafford Mysteries I dedicated an entire year for research. Both original documents that have been uploaded to historic sites, visiting museums, archives and yes, loads and loads of research trips (and yes, it was very, very expensive). I kept on researching while I was drafting, but it was a lower key – just using published books on the era and (real) people in my books.

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 abhor Thomas Howard. I’d love to bump him off before he gets his nieces married to Henry and then killed. Alas, I can only dream…

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?
I only offroad on facts when there is a void or debate over details. If there is a massive historical fact, I do my best to stick to it. My background is in archaeology and I like facts. I get frustrated when other authors take giant liberties and confuse or befuddle (or just plain lie to) readers on what happened in the past.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?
Yes. Especially in contemporary accounts from the era. Visiting Spaniards might write what they observe with a taint of distaste, while others might have overexaggerated what really went down.

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?
I’m not at liberty to say… sigh…

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
When I have time. Which seems not to be very often. I’m very particular in my reading tastes. Most of my literary loves are writers who have passed away (some decades, some centuries ago).

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

Water. It’s quite novel knowing that my characters would faint at the sight of seeing someone drink it.
Last but not least... favourite author?
Right now? Daphne Du Maurier. Or Agatha Christie. Mmmm, maybe Dumas. I’m in a Musketeers phase at the moment. Musketeers and mysteries lol.




Lizzy Drake has been studying Medieval and Tudor England for over 15 years and has an MA in Medieval Archaeology from the University of York, England. She has been writing for much longer but the Elspet Stafford Mysteries began her writing career in the genre.

When not writing or researching, Lizzy can be found reading or gardening. She balances time between her two homes in Essex, UK and California.

The first in the Elspet Stafford Mystery series, is available
here !


© Diana Milne January 2017 © Lizzy Drake April 2017