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Thursday, 29 May 2014

Bigoted? Baby I don't Care....

Dear Traffic Warden

My wife has gone into labour and I am unable to move my vehicle at the moment, but will move it ASAP.

I appreciate your understanding of the situation.

Many thanks

What kind of holiday photos do writers and authors take?  Those with a story behind them, like the one above from a car spotted in a short-term parking space in the picturesque island of Guernsey.

Obviously scribbled hastily,  the note looked genuine to me. But was it? Did the driver get a parking ticket? And if so, was he too busy being a proud father to worry?

Whenever I travel I  like to look for out of the ordinary scenes that might one day inspire me to write.

Like this one, below.

I wonder why the owners chose the name? No doubt it has some historical significance but, according to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, a bigot is 'a person who is prejudiced in their views and intolerant of the opinions of others...'

Well, it certainly  makes a change from Rose Cottage.


To me, what really separates Guernsey from any other holiday destination is this simple message posted outside a memorial to Queen Victoria, who visited the island in August 1846.  The key to Victoria Tower may be collected from Guernsey Museum and Art Gallery during normal opening hours. Can you imagine  anyone in this country calling in  at a provincial museum to 'borrow the key to the Tower?' 

Victoria Tower, Guernsey 
Which brings me back to where I began. If you are looking for something to write about, just take a look around, especially when you're away from home. You'd be amazed at what you can find (yes, even on the car park.) At least they didn't have parking wardens when this car ( an MG TB?) was made. 

Friday, 23 May 2014

Good News for Bad Bishop!

Take two authors, two different genres,  one publishing company and a Spring afternoon in York. The result? My meeting with fellow Safkhet author Irene Soldatos, whose novel Bad Bishop is part of the Safkhet Fantasy imprint.

  I've never been quite sure what to expect from a fantasy novel. Yet, at 600- plus words Bad Bishop is beautifully crafted and shows an imagination and depth of knowledge that is a huge credit to the author. Irene was born in Greece and for many years lived between there and England, becoming comfortably bi-lingual as she progressed. She reads  very widely, both fiction and non-fiction, science as well as history. But she hasn’t been able to avoid the family history bug. There are three professional full-time historians in her family, so it isn’t surprising that she’s a bit of a history buff herself.
 This has led to two published works to date: a speculative fantasy comic novella, Innocent in the Afterlife, and a full-length historical fantasy novel, Bad Bishop. In the works, and in a completely different field, is a commissioned performance piece.

Bad Bishop
In a world where history is a memory, the greatest danger comes from what has been forgotten...
Thanks for joining me on my blog today, Irene. How long have you been writing?

Oh, very long. Bits and bobs since I was a teenager, but I never managed to actually finish anything. I only started writing more seriously while I was writing up my PhD, and that as an effort to keep sane! It took a long time, but I managed to finish that. It would be unrecognisable now, but it was a very early version of what later became Bad Bishop.

What made you choose the genre?

I don’t know how other authors work, but I don’t “choose genres”. I decide what story I want to write and what I want that story to say, and write it. This story turned out to be a historical fantasy because I wanted to talk about history, about the enormous differences, cultural, social, ideological, technological differences between the people of one historical period and those of another, but also the very many similarities. What I wanted was to bring together and juxtapose people from different historical periods and explore what would happen in this case. Of course, in order to do this, a fantastical or sci-fi element was necessary. It would have been possible, I suppose, to use some sort of time travel to achieve this, but I didn’t like that idea, because it would mean that the people using it would have missed the slow process of history, and how cultural, ideological, and scientific changes happen over time. In short, they would have missed all the interesting bits.

How much research did you have to do before starting the novel?

I don’t even have words to explain how much research was necessary. Not only before starting, but during the entire writing process. And this was because I don’t focus on a single historical period in a single place, as most historical novels do, but I have characters from deep antiquity to the middle ages, and places all over Europe and the Middle East to deal with. It was impossible to know in advance all the things that I would need to know, in order to write. In fact, I was double-checking bits of research up until a week before a handed in the final draft to the publisher. The main reason it took so many years to write was the research involved. It’s the details, the small details that make things feel real, and in a book that combines fantasy with reality it is even more important to pepper the story with details and to get all those details right, because it is these that anchor the readers in reality and help them suspend disbelief and accept the fantastical elements as just as real as everything else.

So how long did it take you to write?

On and off, 8 years. I suppose the focused bit of writing and researching of the story in this form was 6 years.

At 600 pages it’s a very ambitious project – did you ever consider writing Bad Bishop as two connecting novels?

Yes. Repeatedly, when I realised how long it would turn out. I even had editors and beta readers try to work out after the fact how it might be possible to split into two. But unfortunately it wouldn’t work. It’s all one story. One unit. And it’s best read in one go without long gaps in between. It’s not an easy read. It does require the reader to keep in mind quite a bit of information in order to follow what’s going on. But I’m very happy to say that those who have read it thus far have all said it was worth the effort in the end! :-)

Can you give us a brief idea of the plot?

Well, I have mentioned the important bits above. But in terms of plot, it’s a political murder mystery set in the 12th century. Only the people involved, though very much people in every sense, are not ordinary human beings.

What are you writing now?

I’m writing a sequel for Bad Bishop, and also a comic fantasy short story. I’ve finished a commissioned performance piece, and there may, possibly, be a play in the works for the future.

Irene SoldatosThanks for joining me, Irene. I've learned a lot!


Sunday, 18 May 2014

It's not a crime to laugh - if you're Lynda La Plante!

Photo courtesy of the Guernsey Literary Festival
Jenny Kendall-Tobias interviews Lynda La Plante
Lynda La Plante made me laugh this week - even though she's been dubbed The Queen of Crime. Lynda was one of the star speakers at the Guernsey Literary Festival 2014 and for a lady with a dark agenda she proved both light hearted and full of sparkle.
The hugely successful writer has mixed with police, forensic scientists and criminals to make her novels and tv scripts authentic and the one thing that comes over from her writing is  a healthy attitude to humour. Like the day she was seated next to a psychiatrist at a posh New York dinner party.  Her head started to whir, she said, at the thought of him  helping with her research, so she asked if she could pay him a visit.  Immediately she could see him thinking: oh no - here's another nutter....
Lynda's advice to aspiring writers crosses all genres and is probably the wisest I have heard. New writers, she said, make the mistake of going back to read what they have written.  They think about it, they question it ,and they stop too much to think.  The answer is to always 'keep writing, see where it takes you and never look back.'   She also recommended 'writing in layers' so that, even the author ' never quite knows what is going to come next.'
As someone who admits that she has no structure to her writing day, Lynda is clearly very organised managing at times to work up to 13 hours a day.  Her success she puts down to starting life as an actress which meant auditioning in front of the great Brian Rix and starring in BBC's cult classic  Rentaghost.  Linda made her writing breakthrough with the incredibly successful television series The Widows. She also has fond memories of working with Helen Mirren who became synonymous with the small screen's Prime Suspect.
Every one of Lynda's novels has become an international best seller -  from Blind Fury and Backlash to The Talisman,  Wrongful Death and Bloodline, the seventh in the popular  Anna Travis series. But despite her success in acting and writing I still think she would have made a brilliant stand-up comic.


Friday, 2 May 2014

Cliche, anyone? An egg-streme case of the bank holiday blues...

My heart-stopping breakfast egg
My heart was  in my mouth this morning when I shelled my breakfast egg, which appeared to be emblazoned with a token of love.  What a sight for sore eyes!  The carefully sculpted heart was in just  the right place. Love  is a many splendored thing, so they say, but we all know that  love is blind. Which brings me back to the reason for this post - have you noticed a sudden rash of clichés everywhere?
If you think I'm one sandwich short of a picnic today, that's probably because I'm over-egging the pudding to make a very valid point. Listen to the news and almost every hour and you will hear about a 'war-torn' area that is trying to get back on its feet.

I don't want to beat around the bush so I'll say it like it is.  Try avoiding clichés for a few days and see how it fires your imagination.  These ubiquitous phrases tend to pop up in the most surprising places, usually without warning. However, you can take what I say with a pinch of salt because I'm guilty of a multitude of sins and using clichés is just one of them.

 No, I'm not cracking up. If I had my way, clichés would be banned from our televisions and newspapers for the duration of each and every bank holiday weekend. That's three days of plain speaking, three days of saying what we really mean.  Why not try it for yourself?  But don't shoot me, I'm just the messenger.