Dylan Thomas, Sunset Boulevard and the Beatles: inspiring Three Strange Angels

by Laura Kalpakian

One of the pleasures of being a novelist is to be able to build an entire book from a wisp, a particle otherwise insignificant, an anecdote that lodges in the brain, rather like the grit that eventually becomes a pearl. Three Strange Angels is that sort of novel.

My first London agency was a venerable firm, founded in about 1919 and boasting a list of authors that dazzled me. By association, I liked to think, my work was included in this stellar company. I lived in England, off and on, Oxford and Cambridge, throughout the 80s, and when I first went to the literary agency’s Mayfair offices, I was delighted to step back in time. Amid an ambience of ramshackle tradition, typewriters clacked away, the air hung heavy with cigarette smoke, and manuscripts lolled off every shelf. In an arc across a high wall were a galaxy of author photos, literary sophisticates mostly from the 1930s and 40s. My own agent in this firm was new, a young woman around my age, and we became (and remain) fast friends. The head of the firm was a man of my parents’ generation, dapper, convivial, charming.

One summer afternoon he took the two of us out to lunch at a posh Mayfair restaurant. He was treated like royalty; the drinks kept coming, the service was impeccable, the conversation funny and anecdotal. He told a story about their client Dylan Thomas (no less!) and Thomas’s sad, sudden demise at the Chelsea Hotel in New York. At that time, 1953, this now-distinguished head of the agency was a young man, a junior partner. The firm sent him as their (and the family’s) emissary to New York to escort the poet’s body home to England. This was the era of ocean liners. On that voyage, on learning that the young literary agent was associated with the much-mourned poet, other travelers feted him, fed him, bought him drinks to salute the sadness they felt for the late, lamented Dylan Thomas. The experience made him understand the power of poetry.

After that lunch, on my way back to Cambridge, as the train whistled and rocked, I kept thinking, there’s a novel there

And now, some thirty years later, and spun far from that morselette of anecdote, Three Strange Angels comes to print. I didn’t actually start writing the book until about 2010 when the central character, Quentin, emerged in my imagination: a young man with all his tickets punched, his future foreordained. Francis Carson’s death would draw Quentin into the unexpected orbit of the fascinating widow, Claire Carson, a displaced American. The task of escorting the late Francis Carson’s body home from Los Angeles would change Quentin forever.  As I wrote and read and researched over the years, the central thematics emerged: the tension between Austerity and Desire. For a young Londoner in 1950 to step into Los Angeles would have been a total, cosmic shock to the system.

Gigi Fischer – clever, sassy, shallow – nicely embodies that cosmic shock. The formidable cookery writer, Louisa Partridge, offers Quentin insight, sophistication he could never have come to on his own. And Claire Carson offers him love, the great love of his life for which he was willing to imperil everything. The book’s title, from the D. H. Lawrence poem ‘Song of a Man Who Has Come Through’ (fittingly) came to me years after. I have always loved that line about the three strange angels knocking at the door, and the urgent admonition “Admit them, admit them.”

I filled Three Strange Angels with elements that have been important, even crucial to my own life. Books, of course. Reading. Especially novels.  Music of all sorts. I am especially fond of old, early recordings that hiss and rasp and the singer’s voice wavers up from the past. And films. In my research I sat spellbound through Sunset Boulevard (1950) and a lot of British films from and of that era as well. And then, just before I wrote the (sort of) last draft, I went to the library and spent days with the whirring microfilm machine and reading the London Times, beginning in January 1950, when the novel opens, to have a sense of the world in which Quentin Castle would have actually moved and lived and had his being.

Quentin Castle’s England was indeed pinched and austere. The war, though it ended five years before, was everywhere apparent in still-uncleared rubble; incalculable losses hung over everyone, as Robert’s death remains a vivid loss for Quentin. Rationing didn’t end till 1954; the winters were bitter and coal shortages kept people hunkered in their overcoats. Americans, who did not live with the war on their soil, nor with daily privations, had no understanding of England’s post-war suffering. And frankly (as the novel makes clear) wanted none.

In Britain the grim fifties ground on, and then, as the decade turned, the Beatles emerged!  Boyish, cheeky, energetic, incredibly talented, and tons of fun (A Hard Day’s Night is one of my favorite movies) the Beatles and the rock scene they inspired in the early sixties seemed to wake Britain up. The old post-war pall lifted, and England was suddenly chic, mod, even enviable. Three Strange Angels ends at this bright moment, June 1965, when Quentin, at age forty, prosperous, professionally acclaimed for his astute literary taste, sits at his desk and once again, risks everything for love.

Three Strange Angels will be published by Robert Hale in March 2015.

The immortality of Sherlock Holmes, and why he lives on

Jeremy Kingston

What marks out Sherlock Holmes as different from all other fictional characters is his inexhaustible capacity for inspiring new adventures.  Favourite characters from other books – notably those by Jane Austen and Dickens – have appeared in sequels and prequels and sexed-up adaptations, but almost without exception they are set in the time when the characters first made their appearance.  With Holmes it is very different. Arthur Conan Doyle may have brought him out of retirement to break up a German spy ring in 1914, but a quarter of a century later he was battling the Nazis in a popular series of movies. Basil Rathbone played him as an athletic man in middle age though, logically, he should then have been pushing ninety.

The modern BBC adaptation, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman

The modern BBC adaptation, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

The jump across time-space is even more striking in the ongoing TV series Sherlock where Benedict Cumberbatch’s urbane Holmes and Martin Freeman’s steely Watson race through the streets of an up-to-the-minute city dominated by the London Eye.  Here, the vital clue is likely to be found on the screen of a mobile.  Doyle’s Holmes would not have told Inspector Lestrade to ‘piss off’, nor would the original Watson have called Holmes, even if genially, an idiot.  These are the heroes of an absolutely contemporary crime thriller.

The pace of the action is far faster than in its predecessors but Holmes and Watson, while different in so many ways, are somehow still the same, because what is significant about them has to stay the same. No one in the history of the world has ever been as observant as Holmes, or been able to draw such perfectly exact conclusions from what he observes.  He is human but also superhuman, and it is this shifting combination that helps to bring about the rich range of performances from the many actors who have brought him to life on stage and screen, from Robert Downey Jr. to Cumberbatch. He is impossibly perfect but this does not make him perfect. He has his faults, loads of them; the Cumberbatch version admits he is a sociopath; he is a bully, rude, impatient and totally fascinating. For someone to possess such failings and yet be on the side of good – and successful in making the good side win – gives him his heroic stature.  We want to believe in the existence of such a person, even while we know it to be impossible. It is what tempts countless writers to put him in new situations, set either in the Victorian age or today.

Dr Watson is the loyal companion.  At first he was the amazed onlooker, knowledgeable in his own field but panting to keep up with the quicksilver deductions of his friend.  Over time he lost some of his stolid nature but continued to be what could be called ‘the typical Englishman.’  But as the English type changed, so has Watson. At the start of Sherlock he has returned from fighting in Afghanistan – just as in his very first appearance in the 1880s – but this time he admits that he was thrilled to be in the excitement of battle.  His character has become close to Holmes in craving excitement to stave off the boredom of a quiet life.

This film adaptation, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, was released in 2011.

Because so many variations can be played on the theme of their fight against crime, there seems no reason why writers will ever stop finding them an inspiration.  Their opponents can be of all kinds and the struggle set almost anywhere. Even back in the period when they first appeared, which is where I set my own version, Sherlock Holmes and a Scandal in Batavia. Mine is the London, the Camargue and the Cannes of the 1880s. As in so many of the Doyle originals, the fate of nations hangs upon the outcome and royal families are involved.

I was spurred into writing it by some curious events in my own life; just like Holmes, my father retired to Eastbourne after living in Crowborough – where Conan Doyle lived – and became a bee-keeper. I could have started the adventure without any explanation of how Dr Watson’s manuscript had suddenly emerged but I was keen to make it all feel as real and seemingly truthful as possible, and the Eastbourne-Crowborough connection offered a way of doing so – helped by imagining a solicitor in whose vaults the manuscript had long been interred.

Where the writers of Sherlock must have found great fun slipping some original incidents, neatly disguised, into their plots, I greatly enjoyed doing the same, the intention being to suggest that my Dr Watson is writing what truly happened but which he had to disguise for publication. The story of Holmes and Watson will never be done. They are men for all seasons.

Sherlock Holmes and a Scandal in Batavia by Jeremy Kingston will be published by Robert Hale in July 2015.

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?

Historical fiction, and why it grips us so…

By Sandra Heath Wilson

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that . . . . Well, the famous Jane Austen opening line is one of the most memorable of all time, and not only in historical fiction, which is what Pride and Prejudice has now become. It was, of course, current when written.

To me, it is a truth universally acknowledged that once an author becomes enthralled by the past, whether a person, famous event or quarrel, or something as fascinatingly complicated as the Wars of the Roses and the machinations in Renaissance Florence, it’s very difficult indeed to change genre.

The past beguiles us, and leaves us with so many intriguing puzzles that weaving one’s fictional plot through the known facts can be very rewarding. Whether you’re a gifted writer of thought-provoking books, as is Hilary Mantel, or a teller of tales, like me, the passion is the same. I am entranced by the Plantagenets. The thought of all that pageantry, bloodshed, dangerous love, wicked plotting and heinous treason fires me with interest. I’m alight with it. The colour, fashions and romance join in, and everything melds into a wonderful microcosm that is contained within the pages of a novel. Begin to read, and you’re carried back into those hazardous times, you meet the kings, queens and nobles, you accompany them on their adventures, into battle . . . and into love.

Richard III's skeletal remains discovered under a car park inspired a wave of Plantagenet fiction.

The discovery of Richard III’s remains inspired a wave of Plantagenet fiction.

I do not suggest for a moment that Hilary Mantel approaches her works in the same way, but this is how I write, and my Cicely trilogy is the result of that imagined time-travelling excitement. My characters—both real and fictional—are there, in the thick of it. I’m there too, and so are my readers, being part of everything. We can’t possibly know what those real people said and did in private, so when they slip away secretly from the floodlit stage into the novel’s shadows, it will be for purposes that the author has invented.

This is where fiction blends with fact. The imagined events are woven intricately through the cloth of truth by the storyteller, and the result is a tale of what might have happened. Not what did. Provided the author makes sure the reader is never deceived into thinking the book tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, then the world of imagination awaits.

The discovery of Richard III’s remains in Leicester has made him the most talked-of King of England, at once notorious and tragic, and the TV serialization of Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen sparked a lot more interest in his life. An antidote to Shakespeare’s monster. I first became fascinated by Richard back in the very early 1970s, when I read a little detective novel called The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. Tey was clearly convinced Richard had been lied about throughout history, and her detective hero set about getting to the truth. His conclusion was that Richard was a good man and king who had been betrayed at the Battle of Bosworth.

There has been a huge increase in fiction and non-fiction about this last Plantagenet monarch, and judging by reviews at Amazon and similar sites, the trend is set to continue. The market is there, and publishers have responded, although whether individual publishers are presenting their fiction titles in the most advantageous way is another matter. Some do, some don’t.

6a010536b33b69970b01a73dbf3ee3970d-400wi  The Dance of Love  9781910208069  9781910208052

Historical fiction from Buried River Press

In these days of increasing self-publishing, traditional publishers need to be one step ahead. Their clout is their distribution, marketing, production, well-honed editing and, of course, their reputation. Their authors expect their support and advertising, but with the Internet and social media, have to do a lot of self-publicizing as well. It’s up to all concerned to tap into the growing, hungry market, which does await its next meal! Thus it is even more incumbent upon publishers to do all they can to see their books do as well as possible.

Richard III and the Wars of the Roses may be almost fashionable now, but other figures and periods have just as strong a grip on the imagination of writers and readers alike. The Tudors, the Romans, Roundheads and Cavaliers, the Regency, the Victorians, Edwardians, the Roaring Twenties and the two World Wars. I’m sure I’ve missed many more that cry out to be mentioned, but the point is that the past — even the recent past— bewitches us.

This Victorian novel by Michael Faber (2002, Canongate) was adapted as a BBC series in 2011.

Will this continue? Mediaeval storytellers entertained with tales of King Arthur and his knights, who inhabited a glorious, golden age that should be emulated in the mediaeval present, and since then every age has produced stories that look back longingly at what has been lost. So yes, historical fiction is going to continue to be popular. It may ebb occasionally, but the tide always comes in again and often stays high for a long time. Richard III may be the man of the moment, but if the remains of King Harold are discovered, as is expected, then there could be a trend towards Saxon/Norman-set novels. Ditto King Alfred, or even King John, should his lost treasure be found in the Wash. Publishers have to be ready to second-guess what will take off next—as will authors—and those with this prescience will steal a march on the rest.

A time machine is something for which many of us long, to go back to witness it all. But in the meantime, there are novels, where our imagination, not the skills of a film or TV director, or even Shakespeare, gets to work and recreates it all. For writer and reader alike, historical fiction is a wonderful escape from present woes.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that writers and the reading public are enthralled by centuries gone by, and I for one do not think it will ever change. Authors and publishers need to be on their toes to satisfy demand.

OUT NOW: Travel Writing by James Fair

Travel Writing by James FairJames Fair has been a journalist, travel writer and commissioning editor for nearly fifteen years. After working on conservation projects in South America in the mid-1990s, he began working as the travel editor of BBC Wildlife Magazine in 1999. Since then he has travelled extensively in the UK, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and the Caribbean for the magazine, as well as commissioning and editing hundreds of travel features. James has researched and written three travel supplements (on Sri Lanka, Tasmania and the Cayman Islands) for the magazine and, in 2012, he was shortlisted in the Periodical Publishing Association (PPA)’s ‘Writer of the Year’ category.

Travel Writing by James Fair

This handy guide offers a complete introduction to the craft of travel writing and shows unpublished writers how to identify suitable markets for their work and persuade editors to take a chance on them. It asks the all-important question, ‘What is travel writing?’ It analyzes your different genre options and explores ways to come up with great ideas and pitch them successfully.

There is a strong emphasis on dissecting the technical aspects of creating fresh and vivid prose, including the art of writing unputdownable openings, compelling descriptions and authentic quotes. The book assesses whether and how even novices can make travel writing pay, and delves into the brave new world of blogging.

Contains fascinating interviews with key travel writing figures, including the guidebook publisher Hilary Bradt and acclaimed travel writer Will Gray. By appraising extracts from the works of such renowned writers as Gerald Durrell, Peter Matthiessen and Redmond O’Hanlon, as well features from key publications such as Lonely Planet and National Geographic Traveller magazines, the book illustrates exactly what makes memorable writing – and what doesn’t.

Travel Writing by James Fair is available to buy now

Travel Writing by James Fair

Joyce Cato discusses the origin of travelling cook Jenny Starling

Deadly Stuff by Joyce CatoJoyce Cato was born in Oxford and went on to work as a secretary before becoming a full-time writer. She returns this month with the latest offering in the Jenny Starling series.

Here, she discusses what made her write such a character.

Having created my own version of an ideal professional police detective in the Hillary Greene series (written under the name of Faith Martin) I found myself yearning for the more nostalgic, classic-style country-house mysteries of the golden age of English crime fiction. Like a lot of readers, I devoured every Agatha Christie novel I could find, from my early teens on, and never forget the delight to be found in coming across a previously unread Dorothy L Sayers or Edmund Crispin.  So, having read everything I could find from that period, I thought, why not write my own!  (Not that I would ever presume or dream to be counted in such esteemed company, naturally!)  Hence Jenny Starling was born – after all, a cook who travelled to country houses and other prime whodunnit destinations, she was just asking to become an amateur sleuth.  Add a dash of humour and a little more modern-day thinking to the mix, and the travelling cook mysteries were born.  And I can only hope that readers have had as much fun reading them as I have had writing them.

Jenny is the only child of a famous celebrity chef, and an eco-warrior mother, who went their separate ways during Jenny’s formative years.  She learned her culinary arts at her capricious Daddy’s knee of course, but also attended a local catering college, where she spent most of her time teaching her tutors how to make a proper Dundee cake.   Her tall, Junoesque figure attracts plenty of male attention, but now firmly in her mid-twenties (or so!) she is dedicatedly single, and likely to remain that way.  Her unrivalled sense of humour and steady head allow her to cope with most of the slings and arrows that outrageous fortune cast her way (usually in the form of murderous mayhem) and her moral compass keeps her (mostly) on the straight and narrow.  Although she doesn’t see herself as a detective, her clever mind and instinctive knowledge of human nature certainly helps her whenever she’s called upon to give the long-suffering local constabulary a helping hand.

– Joyce Cato

Praise for the Jenny Starling series

‘Joyce Cato has created a wonderful protagonist in Jenny Starling.’ – Mystery Women

‘Jenny is an attractive, intelligent Rubenesque heroine, and the cast of characters above and below stairs are captured affectionately and wittily’ – Euro Crime

‘[a] tenacious cook, with a razor-sharp mind’ – Oxford Times

This is the fifth book in the Jenny Starling series:

Birthdays Can Be Murder

A Fatal Fall of Snow

Dying for a Cruise

An Invisible Murder

Deadly Stuff by Joyce Cato is scheduled for publication on 30 April 2014

‘The Chimera Sanction’ author André Baby on writing multi-venue stories

André K. Baby is a Montreal-born lawyer and author. A former Crown prosecutor, his practice has focused mainly on the corporate and commercial aspects of international business. His appointments have included Regional Counsel to a major oil company, General Counsel to a Quebec airline and General Counsel to a Swiss multinational. He continues to mine the wealth of his varied and rich legal experience to forge the characters of his thrillers. The Chimera Sanction is his first novel published by Robert Hale.

When the world is your stage.

One of the first challenges a thriller writer faces when putting down the foundations of his/her story is choosing the size and type of stage on which to set the story. Will it take place in a room, on a ship, a train, in a town, or will the action take place in many locations? Each scenario has advantages and disadvantages, while having its own set of opportunities and restrictions. The one-location thriller will be perfect for the exploring of personal relationships and the intensifying of conflict between the characters. Added tension is provided by the constricting aspect of the limited dimensions of a room, plane, train, submarine, etc…

The Chimera Sanction by André BabyAlternatively, the story tension in the multi-venue thriller will be provided in part by the external stimuli offered by the various locations. The reader is transported to the locale, and will enjoy, tolerate, or suffer the physical characteristics of that locale along with the protagonist/antagonist. He’ll freeze in an Alpine mountain shelter, sweat and be thirsty in the desert, enjoy the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. When well developed, settings virtually become characters in the story.

Having been a long-time reader and admirer of the likes of Sidney Sheldon, Graham Greene, Len Deighton, Robert Ludlum, John Le Carré, Ken Follett and others, the multi-venue stage has always held a particular attraction for me.

In ‘The Chimera Sanction’ (and its stand-alone prequel ‘Dead Bishops Don’t lie’), I like to think I’ve brought the reader to out of the ordinary locations, thrusting my protagonist Dulac into the throes of conflicts at these sites. Having the action take place at the Vatican, on the searing sand dunes of the Libyan Desert, then in the middle of a storm in the Mediterranean offers reader stimuli unavailable in a single-venue story. These settings offer unique opportunities for tension, without the loss of focus on the story. Another benefit of the multi-location thriller is that it allows the author to develop parallel story lines, which funnel down into one towards the end of the story. In the final analysis, the author can only hope the reader enjoys the trip.

– André Baby

The Chimera Sanction by André Baby is available to pre-order now with a limited time only discount of 30%

Top Five Writing Tips from Christopher William Hill, Author of ‘Playwriting’

Playwriting by Christopher William HillChristopher William Hill is an award-winning playwright and radio dramatist. He was writer-in-residence at Plymouth Theatre Royal and tutors regularly for the Arvon Foundation. His latest book, Playwriting: From Page to Stage, is published at the end of August.

Here, Christopher shares his top five tips for any budding playwrights…

1. If you sit around twiddling your thumbs hoping for divine inspiration to strike you may well be waiting for the rest of your life without once putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard). As a wise man once said – if you can’t get it right, get it written.

2. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can start today. Even half an hour’s solid writing can produce immediate results. If you write just 200 words of your play in thirty minutes, that’s 2,000 words in ten days, or 20,000 words in a hundred days (roughly equivalent to a full length play). See how quickly it all adds up?

3. If you find it brain-crushingly scary to start with Act One, Scene One – find another way. Start in the middle of the play if you want, or even at the end. So long as you end up with a complete play it doesn’t matter how you go about constructing it.

4. Without conflict there is no drama, so make the lives of your characters as difficult as you can – thwart their aims and ambitions at every turn. There’s no reason why your play can’t have a happy ending – but it should be a hell of a ride getting there!

5. Don’t let anybody bully you into thinking there’s a right way or a wrong way to write your play – you have to find the way that’s best for you.

Playwriting: From Page to Stage will be published on 31 August 2012. It is available to pre-order now with a limited time only discount of 30%.

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.