Category Archives: Books
When did you start writing?
AB: I think perhaps I’ve always told myself stories when I might otherwise have been bored, particularly when I couldn’t sleep (I’ve always been a night owl, and I used to have a pretty rigidly enforced bed time). From my teens onwards I’d try to write a novel now and then, but I was fairly easily distracted until I had an idea for a series of short stories for one of the protagonists I’d toyed with most often. I finally gave her a regular antagonist and started writing outlines for the series, and one of them took off like a rocket and became Black Knight (The Novel That No One Will Ever See – not in anything like its current form, anyway).
Whilst I was wondering what to do with it I went back to the first outline, and it became Viennese Waltz – although only after a long period in the back of the cupboard when I thought that it was just an itch I’d successfully scratched. It still has one line in it that’s only there to support a scene in Black Knight, but I’m not telling you which one.
KJC: Story telling just seems like something I’ve done all my life. I remember a writing project in sixth grade (approx. age 11) that I enjoyed. But I think my real passion for writing started with a creative writing class I took in high school. My teacher said I would be published some day. I’m thankful to have benefited from her encouragement.
Do you write to a schedule, or as and when the mood strikes?
AB: I’m terribly decadent in my writing habits, and that’s how it’s likely to stay. I know just how slim the chances are of making a living at this game, and for me the risk of turning writing into a chore is one I’m not willing to take on those odds.
KJC: It’s definitely a free-for-all. I’ve tried to have a schedule, but if characters just aren’t willing to talk to me, it reflected in my writing.
What 3 things are guaranteed to make you smile?
AB: Smelling my honeysuckle from half way up the street as I walk home on a summer evening. The first day that I walk out of my front door and find the street full of swifts (I always feel a little bit guilty about this, because they nest round the corner from us so that we get the joy and not the hassle). A long and well told shaggy dog story wound up with a particularly excruciating pun.
KJC: The Chicago Cubs, piglets, and new lip gloss.
Who’s your favourite author?
AB: This changes a great deal, depending on my mood and what I’ve been reminded of recently, but today I’ll say Ursula K Le Guin, for writing such wonderfully alien alien cultures, and (to steal a phrase shamelessly from a friend) for being so damn humane.
KJC: I think I’d have to go with Anne Rice. She impresses me on so many levels. She launches herself into research when prepping a new story. She invokes every sense when she’s telling her story. She simultaneously leaves you satisfied and wanting more. I think if Anne were to read and comment on my work, I’d lose my mind.
Where do you do most of your writing?
AB: In notepads. Sorry, I don’t mean to be facetious, but there isn’t really one main place – in bed, on buses, in the kitchen at work (to be absolutely clear, there’s no comma missing there, I don’t write on company time) – anywhere, when the story is keen enough to be told. I don’t think I’ve actually written anything in a supermarket queue yet, but it’s a definite possibility.
KJC: At work over lunch hours or home on weekends.
Do you have any pets?
AB: I usually say we have an indeterminate number of cats. That’s three real residents and a shifting population of feral visitors in varying stages of socialisation. This is all my husband’s fault, and I’m still trying to deny that I’m in any way a cat person, but it’s a hard sell when there’s a cat sleeping on your pillow.
We also have a tortoise. The cats are fascinated, but don’t seem to classify him as a living being, fortunately. I assume it’s because he smells all wrong.
KJC: I just said good-bye to my Main Man Maximus. He was my wonderfully spastic toy fox terrier. His dedicated fur face will be hard to replace. However, my cat, Isis, is still sassy and insolent, as cats are much expected to be.
What’s your favourite book, and what are you reading at the moment?
AB: This is another one that depends on the mood you catch me in, but I’ve been saying Nevil Shute’s Lonely Road for a while now. It’s generally placed as one of his pre-war books, and I read it first as just a good yarn, but that’s not fair. For one thing it has a gloriously odd opening chapter, written from the point of view of someone who was extremely drunk at the time and somewhat concussed immediately afterwards – I’m rather impressed that his publishers were willing to run with it, given that he wasn’t an established name at the time. Secondly, there’s actually a grim post-war theme at the heart of it (it’s listed in the pre-war group because it was written before WWII). In a lot of ways it puts me in mind of Rebecca, but with the advantage that I don’t want to grab the protagonists by the scruffs of their necks and scream ‘just bloody talk to one another’ at them.
At the moment I’m working through all the Saint books (yes, as in the pre-Bond Roger Moore series) that we have in the house, which is rather more than we did – I picked up a dozen or so in a charity shop recently, some new to me, some that I read in my teens and had pretty much forgotten, so I’m reading them in order, which is interesting – for one thing the first few are much more serious than I expected, but on the other hand one of the light hearted collections that I’d always assumed was a later one (without ever thinking to glance at the copyright page) is actually from very close to the beginning.
KJC: There was a book my Grandpa used to read to me all the time called “Who Are You Looking At?” that is my all time favorite. I know, kid’s book… but nostalgia wins here. And although I have plenty on my To Be Read list, I’m not currently reading anything.
eReader or physical books?
AB: For me this totally depends on what’s most convenient at the time. Physical books probably edge it because I haven’t found an e-reader that’s as comfortable to read as a paperback yet (I’m willing to assume that this is purely because I’m such a cheapskate) and because the local library has a rather slender collection of e-books.
KJC: Both. I don’t have to choose!
If reading and writing were banned, what would you do instead?
Play with the cats. No, obviously not that, because I’m not a cat person. I’d say walk more, but I’m not twenty anymore and my ankles hate me, and I assume that listening to Radio 4 Extra is disqualified by association. I don’t know. I might have to actually talk to my husband.
KJC: Write in secret.
If your Glint story were to be filmed, who would you cast as the main character?
AB: I usually throw up a complete blank for fantasy casting, but for Chrissy I think Stephanie Cole would be perfect. (If you’re struggling to think of a Stephanie Cole character being nice to someone, even for cynical reasons, you haven’t heard of Cabin Pressure, which is a shame.) I’ll bet that the first character you thought of at her name was the black widow of Open All Hours, Delphine Featherstone, and perhaps the thought of her using her feminine wiles on anyone was a startling one, but what she and Chrissy share is a hard, guarded cynicism that’s hard to set aside, but harder still to live within.
KJC: Third Rosemary would be a newcomer. I can’t see anyone playing her.
What 3 things (not including paper, computer, pens) would you like to facilitate a good days writing?
AB: Can I have a force field to keep the cats off the keyboard? Or does that count as general writing implements?
Sticking to the realm of things that actually exist, plenty of nibbles, a dull job to alternate with the writing (weeding and polishing things are both good), and a good dollop of guilt (this seems to work equally well whether it’s generated by the thought that there’s something more important that I should be doing or by a deadline).
KJC: Music, cheesy poofs, and a minion to rub my shoulders and bring me tea.
If you could genetically cross and animal with a fruit or vegetable what would you choose and why? (When I was asked this for Tattooed Mummy’ blog I invented a Potato Spider, spinning its intricate webs of French Fries and Waffles.)
AB: If I can stretch the definition to include herbs I’d love to hybridize the cats with something to make them self-deodorising, like mint or parsley. Better still, bay – a bay-cat snoozing in the sunshine would smell divine, and be a delight to all the senses.
If I must have a fruit or vegetable I’ll cross them with lemons, please, because someone told me once that if you leave a lemon on the tree it unripens in the winter and re-ripens next summer & if that’s true then you would always have kittens to cheer you up in February, and mature cats to leave you alone to get on with stuff in summer. I did mention, didn’t I, that I’m not a cat person? Not at all. Honest.
KJC: I want a Grape Kangaroo…. a never ending supply of grapes. Reach into her pouch and BAM!… Grapes.
Fancy forty-one tales and three poems from out of my head? Read tales of Robin Hood, torture, unicorns, death, poo, toffee apples, giant spaceships, stuffed dogs and more. With additional stories from the highly talented Alex Brightsmith, KJ Collard and Ellie Cooper, this collection might just burst all over you while you’re reading. So, you know, sorry about that.
One problem with publishing a collection of forty-one disparate short stories (and three poems!) is deciding what to do with the cover. Do you clutter it with references to every story, or just pick a few items? I decided to go a third way, and just embrace the title story. When Thom White graciously agreed to continue our association for a fifth book, I specified “spare, simple, almost brutalist” for the cover. Here’s what he made:
He did a brilliant job. I love how the fold between front cover and spine form the corner of a wall spattered with blood. That wonky ‘THE’ emphasises the original subtitle of this book: forty-one tales of a world askew. It’ll certainly stand out amongst a slew of other covers on Amazon, and be easy to find on your bookshelf. Notice also that my running man motif continues, here making his first appearance on the spine.
“The Museum of White Walls” will be available on Saturday, for Kindle and in paperback from Lulu (then a few days later on Amazon when it filters through). Thom, you talented bugger.
I know, it’s a crap word, but I couldn’t think of a clever one. If you do, let me know and I’ll edit this and credit you. They say you should always find a unique title for your book, but given the vast sweep of history and all its words, that’s not always possible. I set out to find out what other books share a title with mine.
First up, there’s a 64-page version of Tolstoy’s War & Peace presented using photographs of rabbits dressed in clothing. It’s called ‘Rabbit Warren Peace’ and it looks BRILLIANT. Also, famed science-fiction writer Bob Shaw has written a couple of comedies about a cardboard-like, sitcom-like hero, Warren Peace, called ‘Who Goes Here’ and ‘Dimensions’.
Warren Peace Title-twins: 2
I expected to find that “there’s loads of books called Fog”, as a visitor told me at Indie Litfest last year but, although a legion of books have the word within a longer title, only James Herbert’s ‘The Fog’ comes close to the singular, and as I pointed out to my surly visitor, his doesn’t have a cool running man in the letter ‘O’.
Fog Title-twins: 1
In my innocence I imagined that ‘Moth Girl’ (even without her bats) would be unique, but no! Here comes ‘Moth Girls’ by Anne Cassidy, so called because girls are drawn to a particular house like moths (that’s light, Anne, not houses), rather than because, like my heroine Thea, they look like a moth when dressed in a weird cloak and flying goggles.
Moth Girl Title-twins: 1
This one surprised me. Who’d have thought there’d be other ‘Blood on the Ground’s? There are, though. There’s Paul Usiskin’s torrid tale of murder, dangerous love, and techno-porn (I know!) across the Israel-Palestine divide. Not a lot of laughs in that one, I’ll warrant. I’d prefer Lenora Rain Good’s ‘Blood on the Ground: Elegies for Waiilatpu’, 22 poems about the 1847 Waiilatpu massacre. Sod it, I’m buying that one.
Blood on the Ground Title-twins: 2
Happily, my other titles – Cubic Scats, Soul of the Universe, Cutthroats and Curses, Human 76 and the imminent The Museum of White Walls – appear to have no title twins at all. Which I choose to interpret as a 5-4 win for me, so ner.
A little teaser from one of the stories in ‘The Museum of White Walls: forty tales of a world askew’, to be published soon.
“No, no! Listen,” Crow explained hastily, “The skinny bloke reckoned that this map would lead us to treasure. Buried here, where there’s a big ‘X’, near this pool that feeds down into the bay.”
“What does the ‘X’ stand for? Oh hell, it’s not ‘xylophones’, is it? Not much call for xylophones along the Skull Coast. No wait, it’s ‘xenopus’, isn’t it? You want me to load the Little Mavis with xenopusses.”
“No no no, the—” Crow began, then paused. “What the flaming hell is a xenopus?”
“African clawed frog. Produces eggs in response to the urine of a pregnant woman. Used for pregnancy testing.”
“Oh,” said Crow, pausing for a moment to consider the odd mind of his captain. “No, it does not indicate the location of a xenopus. The ‘X’ doesn’t stand for anything. It just marks the spot where the treasure is buried.”
“Then why didn’t they put a ‘T’, for ‘treasure’? That would make much more sense.”
“I don’t know why they didn’t put a ‘T’,” sighed Crow, “It doesn’t matter why they didn’t put a ‘T’. What matters is that the skinny feller said that here,” Crow’s grimy fingernail indicated a scratchy ‘X’ in the centre of the map, “is a treasure more valuable than gold coin.”
Is this the worst sex scene ever written? It should be, since I compiled it from the books nominated for this year’s Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award, along with two also-rans. I’ve colour-coded the sentences so you can see who wrote what, and have altered pronouns and tenses so that the whole thing makes a kind of horrible sense. Get the smelling salts ready…
She locked the cubicle door and pulled at his leather belt. “You’re beautiful,” she told him, going down on to her haunches and unzipping him. He watched her passport rise gradually out of the back pocket of her jeans in time with the rhythmic bobbing of her buttocks as she sucked him. He arched over her back and took hold of the passport before it landed on the pimpled floor. Despite the immediate circumstances, human nature obliged him to take a look at her passport photo. His heart immediately started hammering like mad, and a fiery heat welled up inside him. He wanted to ask something, something tremendously urgent, something incredibly important, something that was tingling on the tip of his tongue but already her other hand was on his other buttock. Once he’d trained his sphincter to stop reflexively impersonating a Chinese finger trap, it felt pretty good. She pushed on his hips, an order that thrust him in. He entered her. Not only his prick, but the whole of him entered her, into her guts. “Anne,” he said, stopping and looking down at her. She was pinned like wet washing with his peg. “Till now, I thought the sweetest sound I could ever hear was cows chewing grass. But this is better.” He swayed and they listened to the soft suck at the exact place they met. The act itself was fervent. Like a brisk tennis game or a summer track meet, something performed in daylight between competitors. The cheap mattress bounced. They breathed heavily, breached, adjusting to air. There was a fish smell too, as if the tide had just gone out. When she was sufficiently aroused, a hush finally settled and then with a sigh she rolled over gently onto her back and lay like a doe turning in leaves.
Men Like Air by Tom Connolly
The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis (yes, the former Blue Peter presenter)
The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler
A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin
The Day Before Happiness by Erri De Luca
Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer
The Game is a futuristic bloody killfest put on for the entertainment of the masses in the late 21st century. An Exhibition Match is mounted to decide the greatest fighters of all time, and the book is written from the viewpoint of the commentator known as The Voice.
Unlike some reviewers on Amazon, I found the opening slow. I had to force myself through the first few chapters before the style of writing – a combination of interviews, flashbacks and autobiographical rantings from The Voice (not a character I ever really warmed to) – began to weave its spell on me.
I’m pleased that I persevered, for the novel grows into a “beautiful kaleidoscope of blood, violence, gore and vengeance”. Not kidding, these pages are soaked with red, but the action is so well-written, so well paced that I never felt like I was reading some schlock-horror pulp. This is superbly-crafted book for adults. Take it on the bus with you and you’ll miss your stop.
4/5 wombats for Ed Kendrick’s The Voice of Reason.
So, the first ever UK Indie Literary Festival in Bradford was a thoroughly jolly beano and no error (sorry, I went all Fifties Celia Johnson for a moment there). Organised superbly by the remarkable Dawn Singh, author of the excellent Regina books, it all went swimmingly, though no one got wet.
This was my first book festival as an attendee, and my first wow was at other authors’ banners, proudly announcing who they were to visitors. Made my laminated A4 sign look a bit meek, but then I had something they didn’t – free sweeties and a daft hat. Never underestimate the attraction of a daft hat.
The table that really struck me was Alex Brightsmith’s, as did the paper aeroplane that she threw at me, entirely oblivious to the distinct possibility of HAVING MY BLOODY EYE OUT! This inspired a happy ten minutes of flinging the thing around our end of the room with reckless abandon. And that’s the memory that will stick with me most from this event – the friendship and supportive good-humour; the laughter and respect in that room full of truly talented writers. Plus I signed and sold a few books, too, so, you know.
I found it difficult to find a table guard so missed many of the readings and panels, although once the current Mrs. Wombat turned up I did manage to attend a fascinating panel on World Building given by Dawn Singh and Joe Kipling. That too rippled with laughter. My own reading went very well, I thought, and I was flattered to be complimented on my woman’s voice. No really.
And of course I collected some books. My #UKIndieLitFest tsundoku (reading pile) consists of Alex Brightsmith, J.G. Clay, Rose English, G.K. Holloway, Diana Jackson and more I’ve grabbed since on my Kindle. These should keep me going for a long while yet. Thanks for all the fun, UKIndieLitFest Alumni. Here’s to next year!
Hello, kids! Are you around Bradford on Saturday 23rd July? Why not pop into St. James Hall to say hello to me and loads of other cracking authors? There’ll be books and book-related swag galore.
Date: Saturday 23rd July
Time: 9am – 5pm
Venue: St James Hall, Bolton Road, Bradford, BD2 4LH
‘Summer 2016 is to be an exciting time for authors and reading fans in West Yorkshire. With amazing best-selling authors the first ever UK Indie Lit Fest is set to a must for all book lovers and aspiring writers.’
Dawn Singh (Festival Director)
You’ll have the chance to:
Meet over thirty authors and get signed books. And you know me, I’ll sign anything else you thrust at me.
Enter competitions to win signed novels from attending authors.
“Snap a picture with authors” it says here on the blurb, although I’m not sure that’s such an attraction with the Wombat beard.
Hear the music that inspired the writers and watch book trailers for the latest releases.
Talk to authors around the globe via Skype
Attend FREE workshops and readings, hosted by top authors. I’ll be doing a reading at 9:15, if you’re an early bird. As yet I have NO idea what to read, so any suggestions will be gratefully received.
The festival features best-selling Indie authors from every genre you can imagine, including Romance, Sci-fi, fantasy, YA, historical fiction. Among those attending (as well as over 25 in person) Kendare Blake will be answering fans questions via Skype. Blake is the best-selling author of the critically acclaimed Anna Dressed in Blood series, which has been snapped up by Stephenie Meyer’s (author of Twilight) film production company. Don’t miss the chance to support this amazing event and meet authors from around the country and across the water.
The UK Indie Lit Fest supports Lumos. All proceeds from competitions, raffles or give-aways will be donated to Lumos.
Pick up a copy of the special festival anthology, Indie Visible at the event. Half of the proceeds will go to Lumos, the other half will go to funding next years event. Ask any of the Indie Army festival helpers for more details.
Lisa Shambrook has written about the origins of Human 76, I have written about its development, and all sorts of people are contributing their thoughts on the characters and stories that have moved them. Individual authors have expressed their own points of view.
Alex Brightsmith has talked about how her character Chrissy developed when she crossed paths with my own Glint.
Denise Callaway has published a short extract from her story, Underneath, as has Michelle Fox from her frankly terrifying Human X. Another snippet, this time from Steven Paul Watson’s non-stop The Hunted, can be found here.
Just two more links for you – the ePub version is free at the moment, but will soon rise to a reasonable price. You might want to grab your download sooner rather than later. Might I recommend, though, that you shell out for the paperback, which is a thing of beauty. Not only will you find that it contains a map of Ghabrie’s journey not in the eBook, but you’ll also have a warm glow of satisfaction from knowing that you’ve helped a worthwhile charity.