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: Peter Cottrell Explains Why He Made the Move From Non-Fiction to Fiction

You’ve already published non-fiction books on the history of Ireland. What made you make the move into fiction?

I grew up reading swashbuckling adventure stories and absolutely love reading historical fiction. So, after writing a couple of non-fiction books about the Anglo-Irish troubles that followed the Great War, I decided to have a go at taking some of the incidents that I’d come across in my research and string them together to tell a story that captures the atmosphere of being a policeman in the Royal Irish Constabulary.  That way, I thought I could reach a wider audience than just those people who would choose to read straight history with a fascinating, albeit sadly neglected facet of our history.  I really think it’s important to get the details right so I have tried to be as accurate as possible.  Consequently, most of the events and many of the characters in the book are based on historical fact – IRA man Emmet Dalton really did win a Military Cross whilst serving in the British Army; Drumlish was attacked by the IRA; Constable Mullan died in an IRA ambush at Gaigue Cross and DI Philip Kelleher really was gunned down in mysterious circumstances in a Republican bar having a drink with IRA leader Michael Collins’s girlfriend!  Truth is often stranger than fiction and the more I researched for my non-fiction the more I realized that there was a story to be told.

England’s Janissary is about one man’s disillusionment with war. Why did you choose this area for your first novel?

The protagonist, Kevin Flynn, is a war veteran whose experiences in the Great War not only made him a ‘hero’ but stripped him of his innocence.  In a way there are no heroes or villains in this story, just men tainted by violence and unlike many of us, Flynn has no illusions about what he is capable of and the story looks at how he copes with that unpalatable truth.   In a way the book isn’t just about one man’s disillusionment with war but rather his disillusionment with himself.  Although my own experiences on operations don’t come anywhere close to those who fought in the Great War, I decided that it would be sensible to write what I know – so there are elements of me in Flynn, as well as elements of soldiers and policemen that I have known.  Flynn has mixed feelings about violence; as do many of the characters in the book.  He sees violence as a means to an end, but is not convinced that the ends in the story merit it.  Faced with the turmoil of post-war Ireland, Flynn joins the police, partly to try and recapture the sense of belonging the war gave him and peace took away and partially because he his sickened by the willingness of some to turn to violence to get their way.  Whilst Flynn is fictional he is an amalgam of several men I came across during my research.  Ultimately, I chose this theme for my first novel because I wanted to try and bring out many of the problems soldiers have when they come home from war, whether it was Flanders in 1918 or Afghanistan today; and I chose an ex-Dublin Fusilier turned RIC policeman because there few books who tell the story of this period of Anglo-Irish history through the eyes of men like Flynn.

How much is your experience in the Territorial Army; Regular Army and the Royal Navy reflected in the detail of the novel?

To be honest it was crucial in being able to write England’s Janissary.  I always get frustrated when I read books or watch films about conflict that get things wrong and it is easy to tell whether a writer or film maker has actually spoken to a soldier, let alone been one.  Hopefully the fact that I have first-hand experience of military life and operations comes through in the book.  I served as the Deputy Team Leader of the UN Military Observer team in Mostar during the Bosnian war where I experienced first-hand what it felt like to be shelled and shot at.  I also served for over three and a half years in Northern Ireland and based many of the characters in England’s Janissary on members of the RUC and Royal Irish Regiment that I came into contact with.  It also helped that my brother was an inspector in the Metropolitan Police so I based some of the characters on policemen I met through him as well.

What tips would you give any non-fiction authors looking to make the move into novel writing?

I think I would repeat the advice that I was given by an author friend when I decided to write historical fiction. Don’t write history with a bit of a story, tell a story with historical background.

England’s Janissary is out now in hardback.

Check out the Facebook page for England’s Janissary here.

Author Interview: Jan Jones Discusses Her RoNA Rose Award Nomination and All Things Romance

Credit: John Robertson

Congratulations on your nomination for The RoNA Rose Award for The Kydd Inheritance. How does it feel to be nominated?

Thank you, I’m absolutely thrilled! This is the third year running that I’ve been shortlisted for the award (it was previously called the Love Story of the Year). I’ve been up against very strong stories each time, so I’m delighted that the reading panel enjoy my books enough to include them on the shortlists.

Why do you think the Romance genre is so popular?

I think love, companionship and happiness are things that everybody wants. They make your heart beat faster, they make the day brighter. Reading about characters you care for going on that journey and finding that bond makes you feel good by proxy. It lifts the soul.

Why did you choose to write Romance books?

I write books that I’d like to read. (I also write mystery serials and general-interest short stories.) In the case of the romances, I get caught up with my characters and want to write their story. I also want to make my readers happy!

Where do the ideas for your books come from?

There are no shortage of ideas in my head – it’s more a case of which ones make short stories, which ones are suitable for magazine serials and which ones have the potential for a full novel. I usually start off with the main characters and the situation and take it from there. I normally know what the ending will be, and a couple of key scenes along the way, but the rest of the book comes from the development of the characters themselves. It is as much a delight for me to find out about and write as it is – I hope – for readers to read.

How useful do you find it, as a writer, to belong to like-minded societies like the RNA?

Oh, beyond compare. Writers are generally a bit odd, living inside our heads as we do for long periods of time. It was a huge relief to me when I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association and discovered masses of other people who did just the same. I’ve made a lot of very good friends through the RNA whom I would never have met otherwise. On the business side, The RNA also has parties which are tremendous for networking, and they run conferences where we can all hone our craft, brush up on our PR, find out about the latest opportunities and trends, or simply talk about work.

As a regular tweeter, do you recommend it to would-be writers as a source of support?

Definitely. The lovely thing about Twitter is that you don’t have to be glued to it all the time, but it is there whenever you need a tiny break. Any time of the day or night you can log on and chat to someone. It’s a good source of answers to quick questions, it is lovely for cyber-hugs if you feel a bit low or convinced that what you’ve just written is rubbish. It’s good for keeping in contact with existing friends and for making new ones. Getting a Twitter response is instant gratification – it reminds you that you are not alone in the universe.

The Kydd Inheritance is out now in hardback.

You can follow Jan on Twitter @janjonesauthor or check out her blog.

If you would like more information about the Romantic Novelists’ Association, check out their website.