The dark side of the author: James Raven talks about upcoming novel Dying Wish

Interview by Esther Lee

Dying Wish is one of many crime books published by Robert Hale. What keeps you writing this genre and why? 

I became an avid reader of crime novels when I was in my early teens. My mother was a big fan of Agatha Christie and the great Mickey Spillane, and she got me hooked. Crime appeals to me because as a writer, you can really let your imagination run wild. I love to develop plots and create characters who are either good and honourable or incredibly evil and vicious.

Where do you find the inspiration for your books?

I’m a news junkie so many of my ideas come from the papers. I also draw on my years of experience as a journalist. Every day there are stories in the news that can be turned into a plot for a book. I have a folder full of cuttings that give me inspiration.

Do you think you have a bit of a dark side?

My friends tell me that I must have a dark side because some of the stories I come up with are so twisted and disturbing. In fact, more than once I’ve had to tone down my manuscripts before Robert Hale considered them suitable for publication.

There has been quite a surge in crime and thriller novels over the past few years. How does Dying Wish stand out from the rest of them, and what have you been doing to market this book?

It’s hard for any book to stand out in the current marketplace, especially in the crime and thriller genre. Competition is fierce. I like to think that Dying Wish will be noticed because the premise is somewhat unusual and some of the sequences are quite shocking. My agent described it as ‘a powerful book that’s not for the squeamish’.

I’ll be doing what I can to market Dying Wish by running online promotional ads, trying to secure reviews and sending out specially-made flyers. Hopefully there will also be a couple of book store events.

How do you want your readers to feel after reading Dying Wish?

Dying Wish is actually a pretty dark story and I’m hoping that readers will find it thought-provoking as well as entertaining. If when they finish it they feel it was time well spent, then I’ll be happy. It’s also the fourth in the DCI Jeff Temple series and it’d be great if readers are encouraged to check out the other three – Rollover, Urban Myth and Random Targets.

Tell us a bit about your next novel.

My next book is entitled The Blogger and also features Jeff Temple and his Major Investigations Team. It’s just been accepted by Robert Hale and is due out next year.

The idea came to me after I read about the huge growth in the number of online blogs and how some prominent bloggers have been murdered in recent years for running controversial campaigns.

It’s about a social justice activist who runs an online blog that has millions of followers. He promotes worthwhile causes and often criticizes governments and global corporations, which means he has some very powerful enemies. So when he dies in a mysterious fall from his balcony, there are more than a few suspects…

Dying Wish will be published by Robert Hale in June 2015.

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Wendy Perriam: ‘My new short story collection, Bad Mothers Brilliant Lovers, is published today!’

Wendy tells us about her latest collection.

9780709093862‘The title may seem a tad blatant but, in my 35 years as a writer, I’ve been continually fascinated by the key influence parents exert over their children’s future development and life-chances, and also by the power of sex to enrich and exhilarate. Yet I’m equally aware of the darker side of sex, which, if violent or exploitative, can damage and debase. Taught by the Reverend Mother of my convent boarding-school that one single act of incontinence could land me in hellfire for all eternity, I was conscious from a tender age of the dramatic dangers of “the world, the flesh and the devil”.

Bad mothers certainly feature in this collection – negative, critical, or cantankerous – but I wanted to balance them with some positive, upbeat element – hence the lovers, who, although by no means all ‘brilliant’, engage in enough passionate and transformative sex to justify the adjective. However, there are also more troubling liaisons, for instance, an 82-year-old professor’s attempt to seduce a post-graduate student 60 years his junior. The encounter begins promisingly enough, as the Prof runs through his repertoire of erotic expertise but, when it comes to the crunch, he proves just too offputtingly ancient and the girl flees his bed in panic and disgust.

Another, much younger lover – a data analyst obsessed with numbers, algorithms and mathematical formulae – seems incapable of sexual spontaneity, adhering to a rigid sexual system, as if his every timetabled move is dictated by a dispassionate cyber-brain.

But many of my characters lack any kind of lover: essentially lonely souls, such as 93-year-old widow Primrose, divorcee Sarah, or single, childless Ellen. Yet, each of the three achieves redemption and reprieve – another recurring theme in my work. The basic notion of redemption was instilled in me, very early on, as a Roman Catholic child and I found it appealingly compassionate in that every person on earth can be saved, so long as they seek forgiveness. Of course, redemption for my fictional characters is rarely a religious matter; indeed, is sometimes achieved through bizarrely secular means – in businesswoman Helen’s case, a self-indulgent glut of marshmallows, or, for shy loner Ken, a home-made Christmas pudding – but the basic concept holds good, in that it remains a regenerative and liberating force.

As always, many of the stories sprang from personal experience: the fake gold ring I was offered in a scam; my encounter with a colony of mice at Clapham Common tube station; the bridal couple I saw posing for photos in the Lost Property Office, of all places; my horror as a pious child when I fainted during Holy Mass and believed I was plunging into Hell.

And that terrifying incident brings me back to mothers and lovers. Reverend Mother, who deplored my habitual fainting and refused to call me Wendy on the grounds it wasn’t a Saint’s name, was undoubtedly a ‘bad mother’. Yet I sought solace in God the Father, whom I regarded as a lover, in the sense of a powerful, life-enhancing Presence, demanding worship and surrender.

Oppressive mothers and unobtainable fathers have characterized much of my work since my first novel in 1980, along with Catholicism, of course, which has left indelible traces in the fibre of my being, like letters lingering in a stick of rock until the very last lick. And, in many of my books, I explore the struggle between rebellion and submission, and the drive for self-fulfilment in conflict with the pernicious lure of self-destruction. All these themes recur in Bad Mothers Brilliant Lovers, yet, in the interests of fairness, I’ve also included a few good mothers in the stories, as well as some downright crappy lovers. Take your pick!’

Order your copy of Bad Mothers Brilliant Lovers here

Putting the man in romantic fiction: Love Byte author believes rom-coms aren’t just for women

David Atkinson

David Atkinson

Interview by Esther Lee

How did Love Byte begin?

When I started writing Love Byte, it wasn’t in my head that I was writing romantic comedy until I started laughing at some of the ideas I’d sketched out. It’s not ‘slushy’, as I focused more on building characters into real people who you can believe in. There are sad bits and funny bits so Love Byte isn’t your traditional, stereotypical romantic comedy, but there’s romance and comedy in it so it sits in the rom-com category reasonably comfortably.

What challenges, if any, presented themselves while you were writing Love Byte?

The first decision I made with Love Byte was to write it in the first person. It is a challenge writing in this way as it is difficult to widen out the narrative so what you write has to be tight, interesting and disciplined. I think, though, the decision to give the main protagonist’s view-point rather than multiple views allows me to create more in-depth characters. It’s a style I have also employed for my next book.

The male perspective is certainly a fresh, somewhat alien one for romantic fiction. Do you feel that male, rom-com authors might struggle with this genre?

I can’t help but give the male perspective on anything I write, it’s all I know. Whilst it is unusual for a man to write this kind of story it does, I feel, give a different slant to things. I don’t believe that writing in this genre as a man is necessarily any more difficult than it is for a woman. I’m sure more men will write in this genre in the future; the key (as with all books) is coming up with something fresh and/or from a different angle. I believe that the choices and issues are the same, regardless of gender.

Some people tend to be put off romantic fiction. Why do you think that is?

I’m not sure I agree that romantic fiction is treated dismissively, I suppose it might be by those who like literal fiction but good romantic fiction, especially romantic comedies, can be very commercial and transfer well from book to film/stage. The market is usually women, but I believe what I write is accessible to both genders.

May we have a cheeky peek at your next novel?

My next project begins with a ménage à trios that causes ripples of upset and comedy for the people concerned, and I suppose has an old-fashioned message that everything has its consequences. I like to think that anyone who reads one of my books is able to identify with the characters and what they are going through, and that they could see it happening to them should circumstances conspire against them. The ending should leave them feeling good and if I can evoke an emotional response from readers then I, and the book, has done its job.

What do you think makes a good rom-com?

Author Interview: Theresa Le Flem

The Forgiving Sand by Theresa Le FlemA daughter of the artist Cyril Hamersma, Theresa was raised in London and married at nineteen. After having three children in quick succession she trained as a hairdresser, took up pottery but ended up working in a factory to pay the bills. After her eventual divorce she married again in 2006. Finally, having the support of friends and family, and with her children settled in New York and Kent, Theresa is able to follow her passion for writing and express her strong views about social injustice. She is an avid listener of Radio 4 and a keen gardener, growing all of her own vegetables. Her first novel, The Sea Inside His Head, was also published by Robert Hale.

Here she talks to us about the inspiration behind her writing and why social issues are so vital in her storytelling.

When did your love of writing begin?

As a child, I always had my head buried in a book. I began by writing poetry and associate this with feelings of melancholy. By the age of thirteen I had my own typewriter and began delving into my parents’ copy of The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. So exciting! This was when I began sending work, poems and short-stories out to publishers. The feel of a newly typed manuscript in my hands thrilled me and it still does to this day.

How do you come up with your ideas?

The idea for The Forgiving Sand came to me with the phrase: ‘On the underside, rust was seeping from steel rivets onto the shingle, staining it amber.’ This line, which is about a derelict fishing-boat, appears in the first chapter of my second novel. British Social History in general interests me, especially when it involves unfairness in the workplace. I’ve written about the coal-miners in The Sea Inside His Head. When I was employed in a factory, I resented giving up my day, especially in the summer. The low wages didn’t seem worth the time I was sacrificing, but I still had to go to work. It’s a bit like the commitment of having to go to school every day which I truly resented as a child. I still wonder why school has to be compulsory for children. I think they miss so much. Everyone deserves to be free to choose.

I’m quite religious and when I’m in a creative mood, I think about the mystery of life and the wonder of nature, especially when I’m out walking. I walk our greyhound three times a day and it gives me lots of thinking time. When an idea is hatching I get a sensation, like a yearning for something, but for what? It’s quite intriguing. A character will just come to me and I get to know them by deliberately trying to think ‘inside their head’ to quote a familiar phrase! Only then will I discover what’s going to happen in the next scene.

Waterstones photo theresa le flemYou are vocal about social issues. Is it essential to you that some sort of social injustice be included in your novels?

Underlying a lot of life’s issues are social injustices just waiting to pop up and declare themselves. My characters are in touch with reality. They have to eat, go to work, they might have money-problems – but life for ordinary people is like that. Under my protagonist’s skin there’s a vulnerable person who needs to achieve something (otherwise there wouldn’t be a plot). Finding their problem, and how they set about solving it, creates a story; this is what draws me, and the readers, to become involved. More than that, a person who cares about something so intensely that it causes friction in a relationship provides the basis for a strong love story. I’m not interested in political issues as such, only in how it affects people personally. Love, hopefully, has to survive outside pressures like unemployment, therefore my love stories aren’t just about love. Nor are they just about physical and sexual attraction. That comes into it of course, but I like my characters to have depth and soul.

How do you go about writing a book? Do you plan first or just dive in?

I just dive in. As I said earlier, a single phrase comes into my head and that can start me off. I won’t necessarily start at the beginning; it’s purely character lead so I can’t plan. Half-way through I might have to start planning though. When the novel’s almost complete, I isolate each scene and juggle them about a bit. I do a lot of cutting and pasting after the first draft is written, making sure the pacing is right and the dates correct. I think of the plot as a succession of hills and valleys. The ‘hills’ are the dramatic bits, when something happens to further the plot and these are in place at the first draft stage. Going through the manuscript again I add the ‘valleys’, when I can give the reader time to relax and have a look round at the scenery.

What made you choose Cornwall as the setting?

It couldn’t have been anywhere else. It’s a spiritual place. In the opening chapter of The Forgiving Sand, my character is torn between the beauty and the haunting melancholy of the landscape. There’s a certain atmosphere there which I haven’t found anywhere else. I love Cornwall and have lived there, on and off, for several years. My first glimpse of it was when my father wanted to join the artist’s colony in St. Ives in the 1960s, so we all moved there to a tiny fisherman’s cottage. I had just left school and I worked as a waitress in a café on the harbour. In that beautiful setting I felt inexplicably sad; this was the inspiration for my novel.

Do you have any particular quirks or rituals when you’re writing?

I have to be alone to write. Fortunately I have my own study upstairs and I usually try to stick to the hours between 10am and 5pm, breaking for lunch to feed and walk the dog, and do housework I suppose. I used to spend all day writing but recently I’ve had to give more time to ‘social networking’ – it’s essential these days of course. I also spend a bit of time on background research. At the start of the day I like to sit down at the PC with a cup of tea and put on a CD, either pop or classical, depending on my mood and what I’m writing about. Music often feeds my imagination.

What books do you love to read?

These days I mostly read non-fiction because I don’t have time for research otherwise. I do love reading novels though, especially the classics like Dickens. Recently I’ve been reading more contemporary stuff. I’ve just read and enjoyed ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ by Mark Haddon and ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ by Rachel Joyce. Currently I’m researching the lifestyle and history of Romany Gypsies because that’s the subject of the novel I’m currently working on. This is a kind of relaxation for me, indulging in my love for nature and taking a break from troubles in the workplace to pursue the freedom of the open road. As with The Forgiving Sand, it will be set in Cornwall.

Theresa’s latest book, The Forgiving Sand is out from 31 May 2013.

Author Interview: Holy Franchise Batman! Author Gary Collinson on the Rise of Batman

Holy Franchise BatmanOn the day that the final Christopher Nolan Batman film – The Dark Knight Rises – hits cinemas, we talk to Holy Franchise Batman! author Gary Collinson about his love of all things Batman, the weirdest thing he found out during all his research and where the Caped Crusader could go next…

What is it about Batman that made you such a fan?

I guess, like a lot of people, my real introduction to the Caped Crusader would have been through reruns of the old Adam West TV show. As I got a bit older I discovered some of the great Batman stories like Year One, The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke, A Death in the Family etc., and that pretty much confirmed his status as my favourite comic book character. It definitely helped that the late 80s / early 90s were such a great time for the character, with the Tim Burton movies, the animated series, KnightFall and so on. As for the appeal of Batman, it just comes down to the character and his story. Unlike most comic book heroes, Batman possesses no super powers, he’s just a normal guy who’s pushed himself to the very limits after suffering a huge tragedy, in order to become a paragon of justice for the people of Gotham City. As Bruce Wayne, he could have anything he wanted, but he’s chosen to devote his entire life to this crusade, to the point where he’s completely consumed by the Batman persona. Plus it helps that he’s got such a good range of supporting characters, along with a rosta of villains that’s second to none.

There’s a lot of comprehensive information in Holy Franchise Batman!. How long did it take you to do your research?

Holy Franchise, Batman! originally started out as an article for Flickering Myth back in 2010, so I had already done some research before starting the book. I’ve been following the development of the Batman franchise pretty closely online for around a decade now, so with that – not to mention the countless viewing hours I’d already accumulated – I was working from a decent starting point. But of course there’s a huge amount of history to cover and once I began digging through the research I started uncovering more and more information. I’d say I spent around three months solely on research, not including all the time I spent revisiting the movies and shows, which was definitely the best part.

What was the weirdest fact you found out during your research?

I uncovered quite a few odd facts, but one that sticks out is that Bill Murray had been considered for the role of Batman in the 80s. I’m not sure how that would have turned out. Hit or not, we might not have seen another serious take on the character, so maybe its a good thing it never came to anything.

Who’s been your favourite Batman to date? And your worst…?

In terms of live-action, I’d have to say Christian Bale, but as good as he is I’m not sure we’ve seen a truly definitive screen Batman yet. Overall though, I think Kevin Conroy does a fantastic job of embodying both Batman and Bruce Wayne with his animated voice work, so I’m going to opt for him. As for the worst – Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and even George Clooney have some merits, so it’s a toss up between Lewis Wilson and Robert Lowery, both of whom played Batman in the 1940s movie serials. They’re both pretty bad, but Robert Lowery looks a little lost at times, and his atrocious Batsuit doesn’t help matters either.

Dark Knight Rises Poster

There’s a lot of love for Christopher Nolan’s Batman films – Batman Begins and The Dark Knight – and expectations are high for the final film in the trilogy – The Dark Knight Rises – which is out today. Is he your favourite director to bring Batman to the screen?

Without a shadow of a doubt. I don’t think anyone could make a case for Joel Schumacher, and while Tim Burton’s films have their fans, for me they just don’t hold up next to Christopher Nolan’s. Nolan has given us three exceptional comic book movies with Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, and as a trilogy I’d have to put it right up there with Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. However, I’d also give special praise to Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Erik Radomski and particularly Bruce Timm, who were the producing team behind Batman: The Animated Series. At its best, it’s right up there among the greatest animated shows ever made, and Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is about as close to a perfect Batman movie as you can get.

The Dark Knight Rises will bring a close to the Nolan Batman films. What would you love to see happen next for the Caped Crusader?

Given Batman’s enormous popularity, there’s always going to be new interpretations of the character, but I think the feature film series now finds itself in a very difficult position. It’s going to be very hard to anyone to top what Christopher Nolan has done, and considering how much of a fan favourite Nolan has been, any change in direction is likely to encounter its share of hostility. Ideally, they’d give Batman a rest for a few years before rebooting the series, but with a billion-dollar franchise, that’s unlikely to happen. If they are to reboot the character, then the logical step seems to be a Justice League movie, which may soften the blow of a new Batman by having him team-up with his fellow DC heroes.

Holy Franchise Batman! is out now

Jill McDonald-Constable On Writing Westerns and Her Love of the Genre

Crazy Man Cade by Amos CarrUnder the pseudonym of Amos Carr, Jill McDonald-Constable has written numerous westerns for the Robert Hale Ltd Black Horse Western series. A passionate writer for many years, she tells us why she loves the western genre and just how she ended up being given an Indian name herself.

Where did your love of Westerns come from?

I’m an outdoor girl, that’s probably why I like Westerns. I was brought up surrounded by animals, and spent more time with horses than with people, which may just be why I put so many ‘horsey’ details in my books. I loved watching Western films and series, but never read a Western book. I was always really rooting for the Indians though. I have spent all my life writing in various genres, but the way I finally broke into Westerns is a series of strange occurrences.

My husband, Cris, never knew who his real father was, and often expressed a wish to find out. One birthday, I bought him a DNA test – it was eventually published on an ancestry web site. Within a few weeks, we had a match with someone in America, who, it turned out, is Cris’s second cousin, their fathers used to play together! Then, we discovered their great, great-grandfather had been a Chippewa chief! So from being a fan of Indians all my life, I am now married to one, and we have both been bestowed with Indian names!

Then, a little while after that discovery, I had a dream one night, which gave me the title; and almost the whole plot for a Western. I wrote it down, and sent it off to Hale. It was accepted almost immediately. When I told my mother I was at last going to be published, she asked what the book was. When I told her, she paled. Her father had never read anything but Westerns. (He had died before I was old enough to know what he was reading, and Mum had never been ‘bookish’). My second book was written, and accepted, very quickly, and now I can’t seem to stop writing Westerns. Maybe Grandad Harold is guiding my pen? I like to think so, as, somehow, I am able to write them quickly, and directly onto the computer, whereas everything else I write has always, for years, been done in longhand, then entered into the computer.

And the final, spooky coincidence is this – I live in a little place named Clayton-le-Moors, and the actor who played the original Lone Ranger was named Clayton Moore! This sounds more like the Twilight Zone than the Wild West!

What attracts you to writing about the Wild West?

I believe that it is the freedom of the age. There were very few frontiers then, and people were free to roam all the wide open spaces without constraint. I like that.

Westerns are traditionally written by men. What do you think the differences are between those books and your own?

I think that maybe my Westerns are a little ‘softer’ than those written by men, with more of a feminine presence, and dare I say, some romance? Those written by the men tend more towards violence, and for the most part, their women, if any, are still very minor characters.

What are your favourite characters from Western books, films or tv?

As a young girl, my favourite Western character was Little Joe, from Bonanza (just because he looked pretty!) Tonto was a favourite too, because he always saved Lone Ranger’s hide! It really depends what I am watching at the time.

Although there is one older Native American actor, Graham Greene (Dances with Wolves) – he’s a brilliant actor, and always has a twinkle in his eye, and his tongue firmly in his cheek. I find that very attractive.

What’s next for Amos Carr?

Next is my second book Crazy Man Cade, due out in October. Then I have three other Westerns at various stages of production, hoping for at least one or two out next year. (My alter ego is also working on three other books in different genres.)

If you would like to read excerpts, or more about McDonald-Constable, go to www.womanwholeads.webs.com

For more information on Robert Hale Ltd’s Black Horse Western series, check out our website.

Author Interview: Nicola Slade on the Puzzles Behind Crime Writing

Murder Fortissimon by Nicola SladeMurder Fortissimo is quite a quirky crime novel. Where did your inspiration for the euphonium-based disaster come from?
I love country house mysteries but so many are now residential homes I thought it would be fun to use one as my setting. A friend played in an Oompah Band so I used that and the idea of the euphonium as a murder weapon just grew from that.

When did you write your first novel?
Probably when I was about eight! But my first published novel was a romantic comedy, Scuba Dancing, published by Transita Ltd in 2005.

What drew you to writing crime stories?
I think it’s the puzzle aspect that I enjoy, when I’m reading a mystery and certainly when writing one. I was influenced by my mother and grandmother who were omnivorous readers, particularly loving Miss Silver, Miss Marple, Albert Campion et al.

There is a lot of talk about genre currently, do you work strictly within genre boundaries when writing or just go with the flow of your story?
I think I’ve always tried to stay roughly within the genre though Scuba Dancing, which was a romantic comedy, did have four deaths, one of them rather suspicious. Similarly, my Victorian mysteries, featuring Charlotte Richmond, combine my interests in history and mystery, and there’s usually a romantic attachment of some kind but it’s not the central theme of the book.

What’s next for Harriet Quigley?
I’ve just heard that Robert Hale have accepted the second Harriet Quigley mystery, which I hope will come out next year. It’s called A Crowded Coffin, and has Harriet looking forward to a peaceful summer in her Hampshire village. Naturally, the peace is soon shattered and Harriet’s cousin – and sidekick – Canon Sam Hathaway, warns her against playing at being Miss Marple. Of course she ignores him and finds herself in danger. This book is full of art history, archaeology, Saxon legends, Roman ruins, all sorts – set in and around the historic city of Winchester.

Complete this sentence : On an ideal Sunday afternoon…

… I will have a houseful, as the whole family will have come round for a Sunday roast.

You can follow Nicola’s blog at www.nicolaslade.wordpress.com

Her books Murder Fortissimo and Death is the Cure are available to buy now. A paperback version of Murder Fortissimo is out this month published by Harlequin Worldwide Mystery Library.

Wendy Perriam Author Interview: Part Two

wendy perriam

Credit: Frank Baron

Earlier today, in part one of Wendy Perriam‘s interview, the author discussed her average writing day, her journey into publishing and just where her ideas come from. In part two, she compares writing short stories to novels and looks ahead to the digital age and future plans.

Is it more difficult to write short stories or novels?

The received wisdom is that short stories are more difficult, but I have never found them so. Novel-writing is definitely more laborious, involving more advance-planning and in-depth research – a marathon, in contrast to a hundred-metre sprint. And, even when I’ve completed a novel, it’s much harder to assess three-hundred pages than a mere half-dozen or so, which can be read at one sitting, without getting sidetracked or losing the thread.

On the other hand, writing short stories is certainly a challenge, in that the essence of the short-story form is concision. That means cutting out extraneous detail and paring down the prose. It’s a bit like making stock: you boil down the bones to extract the goodness, remove the debris and reduce and reduce until you’re left with the pure meaty essence.

Do you have a particular favourite character from any of your books?

I tend to prefer the bad girls to the good ones. Some of my female protagonists are dutiful and “normal”, such as Morna in The Stillness The Dancing, or Jennifer in Born of Woman. Others are wild and whacky, like Carole in Sin City, who loses all her money in Las Vegas and ends up working in a brothel, or Thea in After Purple, who masturbates on trains and shoots the Pope. My sympathies are with these ‘naughty girls’, perhaps because I was born one myself, but had no chance to go wild in my strict Catholic home and cloistered boarding-school. One of the advantages of being a writer is that your characters can live alternative lives for you!

As for my male characters, I’m attracted to the overbearing, dominant ones, such as Christopher, the haughty stained-glass artist in Bird Inside, or Caldos de Roche, the protagonist of Absinthe for Elevenses – snobbish, selfish, but also flamboyantly sensual; a man who makes love to church music, because only that, he claims, has the power and passion of sex itself.

Yet I’m fond of the wimps, as well – Bryan, for instance, in my blackly comic novel, Fifty-Minute Hour, who takes his toy snake to bed and longs to parcel up his mother and post her off to a far-flung destination, with no ‘if undelivered, return-to-sender’ address. And I also have a soft spot for Eric, in Broken Places, who feels he’s a coward and a loser, yet wrestles heroically with his fears and ultimately achieves success, despite his unhappy start in life.

To tell the truth, I’m fond of all my characters. As their creator, how could I dislike or disown them, whatever their frailties and follies?

With the digital age upon us, do you still believe in traditional publishing or are you an e-convert?

Broken Places by Wendy PerriamForget the digital age – I don’t even own a television or a mobile phone! With my passion for the radio and my dislike of computers, I suspect I’m stuck in a 1950s time-warp. For me, books are companionable friends, each with its own individual character. I’m currently reading four different novels and all four are quite distinctive: one slim and spare and spanking-new; one chunky and well-worn; one with a vibrantly coloured jacket; one stark and grey and severe. I don’t want them reduced to anonymous downloads; shorn of their interesting covers and their heterogeneity. Books as physical objects also furnish a room, and my flat is crammed with them. I still have my childhood favourites – tattered but treasured copies of Parliacoot, Thunderhead and Milly-Molly-Mandy.

On the other hand, many of my own titles are already issued as ebooks, or in the process of being converted, so, in some ways, I welcome ebook readers. And, with my deteriorating eyesight, I’m certainly attracted by their facility to increase the size of the type. My 800-page paperback of Our Mutual Friend – one of the four mentioned above – is certainly causing me eye-strain!

Have you ever been tempted to write about someone you know (including the ability to adjust their fate accordingly…)?

No. Two of my fellow authors, once extremely close, now no longer speak to each other because one depicted the other in a novel – surely a dire warning to all novelists. Anyway, the role of the fiction-writer is to invent characters, in contrast to the biographer – although even biographers run the risk of ructions and libel-cases.

The most I might do is ‘steal’ certain aspects of someone I know and use them for a character who’s totally unlike them in every other way. For example, Charles, in my novel, Cuckoo, has my dad’s love of order and efficiency, but his job, background and general demeanour are a far cry from my father’s. And for my novel, Michael Michael, my friend Mary Edwardes allowed me to use her own experience of being married to a Michael Edwardes, whilst also knowing two other, unrelated Michael Edwardes. I also drew on her work as a psychotherapist, but the character I eventually created was nothing like Mary in outlook and personality.

What’s next for you…?

The total rewrite of my seventeenth novel, which I’ve just completed in its first draft. Although I made constant daily revisions throughout the writing process, I now need to don my editor’s hat and read the whole thing through with a highly critical eye. I’ll be looking out for any saggy passages; any repeats of ideas or phrases, and also trying to assess its general feel and structure. Is it too long? Does the beginning drag? Are there any characters who fail to convince or need greater delineation? Do any scenes need more drama, especially sex-scenes?

I also have to choose a title. I have two in mind, but neither is quite right. I remember a really hairy time, some years ago, when my new novel was due to go into production but I’d still failed to come up with a title. My frantic publisher summoned me and some of his colleagues to a brainstorming session and the six of us eventually hit on an idea – although I have so say it’s the least favourite of all my book-titles.

Although the editing process is hard work, I find it the most enjoyable and least stressful stage of writing a novel. All the words are already on paper; the whole plot is worked out, and a suitable ending in place. The research is done and most of the hassles are over – I hope! I may find on my re-read that my new baby isn’t as strong or healthy as I thought, and needs not just a bit of TLC, but weeks of Intensive Care. Well, my Peter Rabbit mug is standing by, prepared for a long slog!

Wendy Perriam‘s novel Broken Places and collection of short stories I’m on the Train! are scheduled for release 30 April 2012. Both are available to pre-order now.

Check out Wendy Perriam‘s website at http://www.wendyperriam.com/

Wendy Perriam Author Interview: Part One

wendy perriam

Credit: Frank Baron

Wendy Perriam has not one but two books out with Robert Hale Ltd this month. Her novel Broken Places is out in paperback following on from its tremendous success in hardback. Her collection of short stories, I’m on the Train!, is also out on Monday. 

In the first part of her interview with us, Wendy talks about writing from an early age, her long journey into publishing, getting kicked out of convent school and just where her ideas come from.

Don’t forget to check back later for part two …

Have you always enjoyed writing, from a young age?

Absolutely! I wrote my first poems and stories from the age of four and my first ‘novel’ at eleven. The latter was sheer wish-fulfilment. Entitled A Pony at Last, it featured an ordinary girl like me, who longed to own a pony – highly unlikely in my own case, since we lived in a suburban semi, in a cul-de-sac, miles from any field or stable. The only horse in evidence was the milkman’s decrepit nag. However, my heroine and alter ego becomes the proud possessor of a thoroughbred chestnut mare, so, before I’d even reached my teens, I had realized the power of writing to remake an unsatisfactory world.

I was a sickly, unsporty child, so, while my siblings went skating and cycling, I preferred to curl up with a book, or pen my own variations on Black Beauty or the Famous Five. In fact, I spent much of my childhood with imaginary companions or in imaginary situations – as do several of the characters in my new short-story collection, despite their being adults. In the story Michael, the office dogsbody, Carole, finds strength and support in an Archangel, who becomes her guide, her protector, her shopping-consultant and even her alarm clock. And then there’s eighty-eight-year-old Connie, in Thick Hair, who re-enacts her wedding day, tragically aborted in 1941, when her fiancé’s ship went down; while Jodie, in Hope and Anchor, not only conjures up an imaginary dog, but also transforms her unloving, absent father into a proud and doting dad.

‘I spent much of my childhood with imaginary companions or in imaginary situations’ – Wendy Perriam on a childhood love of writing.

Although now in my seventies, I still draw on the power of the imagination, both in my life and in my work. I find it both consoling and compensatory; an alternative universe where anything can happen.

What was your journey into getting published like?

Well, I’d dreamed of being an author from early childhood, but a series of reverses prevented me from achieving publication until a much later stage. Firstly, I lost my once-all-important Catholic Faith and was expelled from my convent boarding-school. Told I was in Satan’s power, I lived in terror of damnation, which precipitated a long period of depression, followed by physical illness, fertility problems and a painful divorce. So it wasn’t until my remarriage – and the ripe old age of forty – that I saw my first book in print.

I’d been taken on by a literary agent, on the strength of my short stories – written more as diversion than in the hope of publication. This agent said that, if I wrote a novel, he’d publish it. Despite my own deep-seated doubts, he proved true to his word. Absinthe for Elevenses was accepted by Michael Joseph, the first publisher he tried, and came out in 1980. After that, I just put my head down and produced the next book – and the next – scared that if I stopped, my lucky break might come to a precipitous end!

How do you spend your average writing day?

I always start early in the morning and postpone household chores, emails and phone-calls till later in the day. It’s all too easy to waste vital energy on such trivial distractions! But, first, I make a cup of coffee in my special ‘writer’s mug’ – a Peter Rabbit one I’ve had since babyhood. Perhaps all those busy bunnies, racing round the rim, provide me with a good example of enterprise and exertion!

‘I just put my head down and produced the next book – and the next – scared that if I stopped, my lucky break might come to a precipitous end!’ – Wendy Perriam on the fear that comes with finally being published.

I'm on the Train! by Wendy PerriamWith my earlier novels, I’d start at page one and keep going till I reached the end, not stopping to revise until the first draft was completed. Now I’ve changed my method and tend to revise continuously – rewriting each chapter or each short story over and over, until I’ve licked it into reasonable shape.

I prefer to write by hand, in the same red notebooks I favoured as a child and using the same messy, slapdash scrawl. This seems to free the sub-conscious and thus aid the imagination, and I always encourage my creative writing students to swap the computer for a pen. Certainly in my own case, I find composing on a computer inhibiting and unnatural – perhaps because I didn’t own one until I was in my sixties. I didn’t even know how to type and had to enrol on a beginners’ course – the oldest student in the class!

But, once I’ve done my writing-stint, I do – reluctantly – go to the computer and turn my messily scrawled pages into a neat typescript. Then I spend the afternoon revising this typed draft, continually retyping and re-revising, until my mind is soggy and I realize it’s time to call a halt. At that stage, I turn my attention to emails and household tasks, although making the beds at 5p.m. seems appallingly sluttish and I hear my long-dead mother’s voice in my head: ‘Any decent housewife does the chores first thing!’

Where do your ideas come from?

My ideas spring from anywhere and everywhere, especially those for short stories. In my new collection, a pub sign swinging in the wind gave me the idea for Hope and Anchor, while The Little Way arose from viewing the relics of St Therese of Lisieux, on display in Westminster Cathedral. Baggage was prompted by my own total inability to pack light. Even for a weekend-break, I’ll take a cabin-trunk.

I plan to start on an eighth collection of stories, once I’ve completed my new novel, so I’m already on the lookout for ideas. Wherever I go, I keep my senses primed, ready to pounce on even the smallest incident – a puppy in the park, a punk’s flamboyant hairstyle, a fracas on a bus – and then let my imagination get to work and turn this tiny seed into a story.

‘Wherever I go, I keep my senses primed, ready to pounce on even the smallest incident…’- Wendy Perriam on where her ideas come from.

Ideas for novels tend to come less randomly and need much more working out. I may start with a character, like Catherine in Second Skin, who feels she’s never been the person she was born to be, or with a concept such as fear – as in my last novel, Broken Places, or with a situation, such as Lorna’s bungled bunion operation in Tread Softly. Yes, even an unsightly bunion can kick-start a novel!

Check back later today for part two of the interview, when Wendy discusses the digital age and what’s next for her books…

Author Interview with Jacquie Walton (Joyce Cato / Maxine Barry / Faith Martin)

A Narrow Return by Faith MartinJacquie Walton was born in Oxford. She began her working life as a secretary but left to pursue her dream of becoming a writer. Here she tells us what drew her to crime writing, what it’s like working under different pseudonyms and why she loves her characters.

What drew you to writing Crime Fiction?

I’ve always read crime novels for preference, right from my early teens. Like most, I started off with Agatha Christie, but soon discovered all the greats from the classic British era – Dorothy L. Sayers, Patricia Wentworth, Margery Allingham et al. And now we have all the great modern thriller/crime writers, like Lee Child, Harlan Coben and Robert Crais. So it was only natural for me to want to write crime.

What do you think is required for a great story to work?

I’ve always liked pace in my reading, and so I try to keep all my novels, be they romance, crime or classic whodunits, really zipping along. I also think a strong central character is absolutely essential. And my favourite character (if I really had to choose one) would be Jenny Starling, with Hillary Greene running a close second. I like Jenny’s humour, competence and humanity, and I really admire Hillary’s strength and intelligence mixed with human fallibility.

You’ve done work under numerous pseudonyms. How is it writing as different people?

I chose my pseudonyms from family members names – thus I have a niece called Maxine and a nephew called Barry (my pen name for romances) another set of the same called Faith and Martin (the Hillary Greene series) and my grandmothers’ maiden names of (Alice) Joyce and (Winifred) Cato for the Jenny Starling series. But all three genres are very different, and I don’t find it all confusing juggling all three. I enjoy writing them all – but the classic whodunits with Jenny Starling are both the most difficult to plot and write, but also, I find, the most enjoyable.

Your Hillary Greene series is set in Oxford. Why did you choose this particular location for this crime series?

I set the Hillary Greene series in Oxford because I’ve lived within twenty miles of the city for all my life, and it’s the only city I know! Plus, I don’t see why Morse should have had all the fun and pleasure of solving crimes within sight of the dreaming spires.

Dying for a Cruise by Joyce CatoWith the digital age upon us and some of your books now out in ebook format, how have you found the transition? Are you an e-convert?

Whilst I am very glad that a lot of my books are going out in ebook format, I don’t own a device that would allow me to ever read them that way, and being a total Luddite when it comes to modern technology, I doubt I ever shall. I think I will always prefer to have the real thing in my hand.

You’ve written romance and crime fiction – which do you find more enjoyable and which do you read in your spare time?

I enjoyed writing the bigger, more glamorous and action-packed romances that really weren’t suitable for the classic Mills & Boon genre, and whilst they were fun to write, (sexy scenes included!) I prefer to stick to crime nowadays. I never read romance in my spare time, only crime – but not the gory or grisly forensic/serial killer type. I prefer escapism in my reading literature.

What do you love to do when you’re not writing?

When I’m not writing, I have a dog that needs walking a lot, and living in some of the most beautiful scenery in the country (I’m on the edge of the Cotswolds) walking and wildlife watching are my main pastimes.

What can we expect from you in the future?

In the future, I would certainly like to concentrate more on classic whodunits – maybe do a few other titles for the Jenny Starling series, and maybe even create a second character and series, but still keeping to the classic country-house, cosy, twisting-plot, red-herring formula that I know so many readers like as much as I do. I think the ever-popular television series of Agatha Christie and Midsomer Murders-type programmes show just how much-loved they are.

Jacquie Walton writes under the pseudonyms Joyce Cato, Maxine Barry and Faith Martin. Her books can be found on the Robert Hale Ltd website and many of her ebooks – including Beside a Narrow Stream and By a Narrow Margin by Faith Martin – are available to buy at all good ebook retailers.

Out now: A Narrow Return by Faith Martin

Coming soon: Dying for a Cruise by Joyce Cato (available to pre-order now)