Debut Novel Release – Author Chat with Caroline Roberts

Caroline writes contemporary fiction; emotional stories about love, loss, betrayal, and family, that explore how complex and yet beautiful love can be. She lives in stunning rural Northumberland – sandy beaches, castles and gorgeous countryside that inspire her writing. “The Torn Up Marriage” is her debut novel. In her own words, it is a powerful and poignant story about the bomb of an affair, and the key instinct to protect your family. But what happens when you tear that family apart?

The road to publication was long for Caroline, having written seriously for ten years, completed four novels and been submitting to agents and then publishers directly for the last five years. Finally it all came together in July last year, when 2 major publishers offered her deals within the hour! It’s all been a huge learning curve. She tale about her debut novel and shares a few tips for any aspiring authors below.

The Torn Up Marriage is an emotional story, where did you get your ideas from?

I am intrigued by relationships and by the “messier” side of love – it’s more true to life. A magazine article initially sparked the idea…by detailing how difficult it had been for a family coping with the fall-out of the affair, but how they were trying to make it work. I wanted to show how everyone involved would feel, the betrayer as well as the betrayed, the children, the grandparents; the idea just grew. And I wanted to show how love, even when battered and bruised, can survive.

Why did you choose Northumberland as a setting?

I have lived in Northumberland for the last 13 years and absolutely love the place – its rolling countryside, moorland hills, and the most amazing sandy beaches with castles perched on cliffs overlooking them, are just stunning. There are also historic towns, such as Alnwick, with its honey-coloured stone buildings. I think many people still don’t know a lot about it, being rather unique and undiscovered country tucked away on the borders between England and Scotland. My novels are all set in Northumberland – it’s just an inspiring setting to have!

Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?

* Write what you are passionate about. If you love what you write this will make the writing process so much easier, and it will come through to the readers (and hopefully publishers/agents) and spark their imagination and interest too.

* Finish the book! Just keep going forward and get the story out. Make time to write regularly, and you will get there. Editing is for later.

* Polish up your first 3 chapters, spend time on your synopsis and cover letter, and only then start sending it out. Try and be as professional as possible.

* Persevere – the submission process can be long and hard, and rejection is never easy. Try not to take it too personally – easier said than done, I know – but keep going and try and learn from any critical feedback you may get.

* Link up with other writers. Look for local groups, or link with groups in your genre. The support and friendship within organisations such as the Romantic Novelists’ Association is invaluable. (It was only by taking a deep breath and pitching at the RNA conference that I got my book deal offers.)

* Take a look at my blog for further tips and feedback on writing and submitting:
http://carolinerobertswriter.blogspot.co.uk/

You can find Caroline on Twitter here
@_caroroberts

Richard Skinner – Terrace

Richard Skinner is a novelist, essayist and poet as well as being one of the driving forces at the Faber Academy. His new pamphlet ‘Terrace’ is due to be published by Smokestack in April 2015.
I had an opportunity to ask him what this new collection is about.
Here is his reply:

The 22 poems in ‘Terrace’ were all written 2008-14. I didn’t put in any poems written before then into the collection because they seem distant to me now, almost as if written by someone else. It’s other people who are best at identifying any common themes running through your work and my editor at Smokestack, Andy Croft, describes ‘Terrace’ as a ‘book about the meanings of perfume, light and colour, exploring the world in a series of striking images, and juxtaposing them in unexpected ways to reveal at the end a ‘bigger picture’ that was always there, only hidden.’

The 22 poems published together allow me to see what interests me most in terms of form and technique. For example, I love lists and the idea of ‘list as litany’ and there are a couple of poems that are just lists of objects, but these objects take on a special significance, a near-sacredness even. In “Death in a French Garden”, the bottles of medicine are metonyms of a mysterious death. We don’t see what happens, only what remains after the event. “My grandmother’s things” is a list of things belonging to her that I have kept and which now act as aides-memoire. In making these lists, I’m writing about what’s tangible and visible as a way of talking about what’s intangible and invisible.
There are a couple of poems based on Greek myth/Biblical characters. I have always been fascinated by the Orpheus myth and every poet has to write a poem about him, don’t they? Orpheus’ ‘mistake’ lies in his desire, which leads him to see and possess Eurydice when he is only destined to sing about her. Only in song does Orpheus have power over Eurydice, but he loses Eurydice because he desires her beyond the power of the song, and he loses himself too. “Nefertiti” is a very earthy poem about sights, sounds and the smell of: ‘neroli, of oris butter,/ the roots of iris-floral,/ obscenely fleshy, like the odour/ beneath a breast or between buttocks.’

Some poets whose style and subject matter are close to my own heart are: Wallace Stevens, Sylvia Plath, Ian Hamilton. More recently: Pauline Stainer, Michael Symmons Roberts, Marion Tracy. And whichever way you turn, there is always TS Eliot. Short poems work best for me. I love the super-condensation of a short lyric or imagist poem. Short dense poems can expand your mind in every direction and the shorter the poem is, the more expansive it is. For me, that’s what David Burnett was getting at when he said,
‘Prose adds. A poem multiplies.’

You can find further details here
http://richardskinner.weebly.com/terrace.html
@RichardNSkinner

Review – The Chelsea Flower Show Massacre – by Mark Fiddes

I took my time with the work of Mark Fiddes.
I read and re-read, and then allowed it to percolate for a while.
The recipe seems to be this:

Take a pan of social commentary
Add a cup of literary allusion
and sprinkle with essence of wry

Then reduce over a low flame until it turns to gold
Turn the gold over
It is stamped
Precision

This is precise work without being delicate. It certainly carries a weight of meaning in a small space. The language is modern and the punctuation a necessary afterthought. The work is heavy with intent and the word choices careful, and yet, none of this gets in the way of the narrative.

This is intelligent, multi-layered modern Poetry and should be read.

It isn’t perfect, which is almost a relief, and there is in places an emphasis on waste which won’t appeal to everyone. But this is clever, deep and engaging. You can’t ask much more from a first collection.

The Chelsea Flower Show Massacre will be launched at Keats House by Templar Poetry on the 17th March 2015, and is the winner of the annual iShot Award. You can find more information at the sites below.

http://www.templarpoetry.co.uk
http://www.iotamagazine.co.uk
@fiddesmark
@KeatsHouse

The Poetry of – Michael Daviot

Michael Daviot is a barely contained explosion of a poet.
He relies heavily on stress and the sometimes pounding rhythm of his poetry drives the meaning forward. He favours strong emotive language and minimal punctuation, allowing the free lines and the consonance to speak for itself. Unusually for a poet versed in performance his work engages shape and contour on the page in a way that supports the intent of his poetry.
The overarching feeling is that of an uneasy intelligence kicking at the bars of conventionality, capable of great frustration as well as great gentleness.
This is well read but not derivative work.
If there is a flaw, and it’s a small one, he can sometimes fall into the feeling of being over studied. But here I am talking about the odd line and the odd occasion.
This is work that shines brighter with performance and if you get the opportunity to hear him read his work I encourage you to do so.
You might want to take body armour.

You can find him on twitter @MDaviot
and he is a regular performer at the Speakeasy in Edinburgh @SpeakeasyEd

Constant Companions

We all like a bit of company. Yes, we vary in the amount and intensity of the company we enjoy, but, on the whole, we welcome friends and fellow travellers. We are social creatures, it’s one of the things that define us as a species. We like to to get into each other’s heads. We are interested in each other’s thoughts, feelings and experiences. It’s the reason why we love to read and why we love the exploration of writing.

But what about the silent passengers?
We all have silent company.
Inside our heads,
following our every step.

I’m talking about words.

From the moment we begin to piece our thoughts together we hang those thoughts on words.
Whichever language or languages we use, we carry our companions. Some have been with us from our first year of life. Some are new this year and others, if we really love language, are new today. They inform who we are. The shape and sound of our words decide the movements of our face. They influence how we look. They decide when we pause, when we breathe. They gather us into groups by country or class by occupation or interest.

They are wonderful, incredible things.
Take a close look at your companions.
They helped to build you.

Writer’s Reflections – Sandra Danby

Many thanks this week to Sandra Danby for telling us a bit about her writing journey

 

My new book : Ignoring Gravity is the story of Rose Haldane’s own “Who do you think you are?” television programme. Rose is confident about her identity. She pulls the same face as her grandfather when she has to do something she doesn’t want to do, she knows her DNA is the sam as his. Except it isn’t: because Rose is adopted and doesn’t know it. Ignoring Gravity connects two pairs of sisters separated by a generation of secrets. Finding her mother’s lost diaries, Rose begins to understand why she has always seemed the outsider in her family, why she feel so different from her sister Lily. Then just when she thinks there can’t be any more secrets…

The publishing world is changing rapidly now, as indie publishing becomes established alongside the traditional business. Ignoring Gravity is a part of this, published by a new crowd-funded publishing imprint by BNBS books, called Britain’s Next Bestseller. This is a hybrid indie/traditional publishing deal in which the author has control in the early stages (cover design, PR, Book trailer, social media promotion). Once an agreed pre-order target is hit, BNBS takes over as a traditional publisher, publishing the book in traditional and e-book formats. My provisional publication date is September 2014 when the book will be available from Amazon.

Why I wrote Ignoring Gravity: I was an imaginative child. I would lie awake in bed at night and wonder what it would be like to live in another country, with a different family…what if…I was a boy, or lived in a busy city, or was good at arithmetic? If I had grown up in France not England, with a father who was a businessman not a farmer, would I be a different person now? Or have I, through my personality and life experiences, essentially made me, me?

This idea stayed with me. It wasn’t something I actively thought about but it stayed in the back of my mind. I’m not adopted and had a happy rural childhood in Yorkshire. When I turned from journalism to fiction 15 years ago, I started to think about my identity again. One day, when I was at my creative writing class,  a sentence came to me fully-formed. Rose Haldane thinks children should be served lightly grilled with a green salad. Rose has a very clear idea of who she is until the day she discovers she is adopted. Her family history is a blank page, but Rose is still Rose.

My tutor Nina said,”That’s it, that’s the first line of your novel, now go away and write the rest of it.” And that was the beginning of ignoring gravity. It changed along the way; the biggest alterations were a switch from first person to third, and the introduction at an agent’s recommendation of a storyline for Rose’s sister Lily.

The first draft was a whopping 140,000 words. The thought of cutting it was frightening, but I was ruthless and cut it to 99,000. Anything less, and the story would be lost. “Rose”, as the manuscript was (and still is!) known in our house, spent various periods sitting in a box while I wrote other things. It is 13 years since that first writing exercise, and the story has changed out of all recognition. I learned to let the characters do the things they wanted to. I learned a lot about story planning, character arcs and sowing clues and red herrings to keep the mystery alive.

Watch the book trailer http://youtu.be/dGjnw-7qaa4

Watch my author interview here http://youtu.be/VOnFDPr90y0

Becoming

 Strange creatures, writers. You will seldom meet a group of people so acutely aware of the world, aware of the place where they fit or, more often, don’t fit. We squeeze ourselves into boxes called genres because marketing likes a good box. They make things easier to package and shelve. They make them easier to sell… to describe.

Describe (v) – to remove the personality of the writer from the equation

 I jest but it’s a dark one, because, whatever you are as a writer, you are not a genre. You are not even who you were last year and you won’t be the same person next year. You are Becoming.

What are you becoming? Well, I don’t know it’s your journey. You might pass through several phases of writing and many genres. And then you find a genre where you settle for a while and it will be the right one for who you are at the time, because you are not a genre, because you are Becoming.

It is part of the thrill of being alive to watch people Become. And who we become is influenced every day by who we want to be. We don’t always get what we want and we seldom if ever get what we expect but we all get to change, to develop, to be new. I don’t know the final destination of the journey. I haven’t had the opportunity to peep at the last page of my story and I don’t think I would want to. I am enjoying Becoming and I look forward to seeing you Becoming, for all the days of my life.

The Chocolate Book Challenge

Thank you to the wonderful @janeisaacauthor for inviting me to this blog challenge. You can find her post at http://www.janeisaac.co.uk/blog.

This post is a little late due to network problems (do not get me started ) so I apologise for that in advance.

The idea of the challenge is very simple, to liken some of your favourite books to chocolate bars. At least it seemed simple at first glance but it took me quite some time to whittle down my reading list to the following contenders, even though I limited my choice to books read in 2014 to give myself a smaller task. Here goes,

Dark Chocolate – 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

A beautifully written story which explores the nature of reality. It is a surprisingly gentle read for a book covering very dark and difficult themes. Thought provoking with touches of bitterness the content moves from the banal to the shocking and back with the same unnerving ease that Murakami moves across the boundaries of reality. Expect the occasional talking cat.

 

Milk Chocolate – The Analects of Confucius

This is not an easy read but well worth the perseverance. It is a collection of snapshots from the life of one of humanity’s great thinkers.  The passages jump from event to event and conversation to conversation but, if you relax and let them wash over you, you begin to appreciate the warmth and the humour of the man. These works provided the foundation for one of the world’s greatest civilisations. You were not considered educated unless you could quote the teachings of Confucius and as such they are the wonderful Milk Chocolate of all that is China.

White Chocolate – Bridget Jones – Mad about the boy  by Helen Fielding

As white chocolate isn’t really chocolate so this isn’t really literature but I did enjoy it. Admittedly I listened to the audiobook rather than reading it but I appreciated the silliness and the glimpses of a rushed home life were all too familiar. The eponymous heroine seems to have aged without maturing at all, which made me feel slightly sad for the character, but this is not a book to engage deep thought, it’s frothy and silly with an occasional effort to touch on darker themes. Great company while cleaning the kitchen.

 

 

The follow up post will be courtesy of the lovely Rebecca Mascull. You can find her at
http://www.rebeccamascull.tumblr.com
@rebeccamascull

Coffee Break – With a Writer

Hello, come in and take a seat. I’m just taking a short break from work, it’s a great time to chat. What have I been working on today? Well, I’m writing a short story in which my protagonist has quite a distorted world view. He may or may not have killed a man and I’m not sure that I’m going to find out in 6000 words or so but he certainly believes that any action he took was inevitable. It’s quite nice to write in first person as a different character. It gives you a bit of a break from the self and lets you explore other people’s motivations and thought processes. I suppose it could be viewed as quite a dark story but the tone is deceptively light because the narrator isn’t particularly concerned by his actions. It works well because it’s a nice juxtaposition.
I’m enjoying writing in short story form at the moment. Every day is very different. It allows a lot of time for play. I like to play about with words and ideas and the whole format works supremely well for that.
Yes, I probably should get back to it too. Good luck with your current piece. Drop in soon.

Stronger than we Look

Writing is a strange profession. It calls for a certain amount of stubbornness, a dogged bloody-mindedness, that keeps you writing and working when it all seems hopeless, and that isn’t all. The stubbornness has to be met with an equal if not greater desire to learn and the ability to accept and weigh criticism when it inevitably comes our way. That isn’t an easy thing to do. Writers put a level of self into their work which sometimes leaves them feeling very vulnerable. Add to that the financial constraints of working in the Arts and you can see that it takes a very special balance of qualities to make a writer. It amazes me sometimes that so many people succeed. Ray Bradbury puts it like this, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”

The one thing you can guarantee about those who do succeed is that they love to write. For many of those writers the act of writing is the end and purpose and the finished article almost serendipitous, to be put aside as they move on to something new. There isn’t really any lesson in this other than a call to love, love, love what you do. Love it. Love the pattern of the words as they fall onto the paper. Find joy in the phrasing. Because the love of your work will take you through whatever comes your way and out the other side.