Having been woefully remiss about keeping my blog active in recent months, I was tagged last week by the lovely and talented Claire Dyer to take part in this Blog Hop. See her own Blog Hop here: http://www.clairedyer.com/?page_id=12. So thank you, Claire, for nudging me back into blogging mode.
You see, it’s far too easy to sink into a familiar writing rut that fits comfortably into the jigsaw of one’s life.
That’s why it strikes me as a particularly Good Thing to get poked and prodded out of my Comfort Zone every now and again, to be asked Blog Hop questions that make me re-evaluate what I do and why I do this crazy business of WRITING. So bring it on!
Four set questions. Let’s start with the easy one.
What am I working on?
I am deep into my next book – it’s set in Italy 1932 when Mussolini was in power and Fascism gripped the country with an iron fist. My heroine is an architect who is ambitious to leave her mark on one of the new show-towns that Il Duce is building just south of Rome – but corruption and intrigue spin a web around her. She finds love but at a cost ….. And I’m loving it.
So I am spending my days chatting in my head with Isabella and Roberto and Dottore Cantini and Capitano Sepe and Rosa – and what happens is …. No! Stop there!
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
To be honest, I don’t think there are that many other authors writing in my area of the historical genre. I create a sweeping mix of love and adventure, of betrayal and violence, and combine them with a strong injection of history and early 20th century politics. But where mine differ from most is in the settings I choose for my stories – like the icy tundra of Russia, the ancient cities of China, a family rubber plantation in Malaya or the scarcely mentioned role of the shimmering blue skies of the Bahamas in the fight for victory during World War II. But when I write, I don’t think – how can I be different? I find an idea or a place or a character that excites me and I hope that I can make it exciting for my readers too.
Why do I write what I write?
Because I am fascinated by it. I was inspired to write my first novel – THE RUSSIAN CONCUBINE – by the extraordinary story of my grandmother’s perilous escape from Russia during the Revolution when she fled to China.
That was when I realised that I adore digging around in tumultuous corners of history and finding out how the events impact on the personal lives of my characters. It is a journey of constant discovery. Stick me in a room full of dusty research books and I am as happy as a hippo in mud.
I love to put strong gutsy characters into a richly colourful setting and test them to the utmost, watching the layers peel away and exploring what lies at the core beneath. And then – of course – let’s not forget that there’s all the research travel to faraway places that I have to do for my readers …..
How does your writing process work?
I wish I had a process. Writing each book feels completely different and each time it evolves its own rules and routines. But I always start with the research and make hundreds of pages of notes, 95% of which I never use, but I need them in my head to make myself totally confident in the new world I am about to create. I start slowly, easing myself in, and gather momentum as I go. I make a skeleton plan but it is only a very loose collection of bones and I get excited about not yet knowing what is going to happen to surprise me and my readers along the way – though I always have a definite ending in sight. I try to write every day, even if it’s just a few words – partly because I have a Dreaded Deadline to meet, but also because I fall in love with my characters and want to hang out with them as much as possible. This writing business is a weird process!
So that’s it from me. But next week you’re in for a real treat. I will be handing the verbal Blog Hop batton to three lovely writers:
SHEHANNE MOORE writes gritty, witty, historical romance, set wherever takes her fancy. What hasn’t she worked at while pursuing her dream of becoming a published author? Shehanne still lives in Scotland, with her husband Mr Shey. She has two daughters. When not writing smexy historical romance, where goals and desires of sassy, unconventional heroines and ruthless men, mean worlds collide, she plays the odd musical instrument and loves what in any other country, would not be defined, as hill-walking
LINDA MITCHELMORE was born in Devon where she still lives. When a virus robbed her of her hearing she turned to writing as a means of communication and has had over 300 short stories published worldwide. In 2012 Choc Lit published her first historical novel, TO TURN FULL CIRCLE, followed by its sequel, EMMA: There’s No Turning Back. She has just finished the third in this trilogy. She has had two novellas published as ebooks – HOPE FOR HANNAH and GRAND DESIGNS. When not writing, Linda enjoys walking and cycling.
twitter.com/@lindamitchelmor (no e on the end)
MICHELLE J HEATLEY ‘s debut novel FISH SOUP is to be published this summer by Sunpenny Publishing. She has had stories published in the Stratford Literary Festival anthology and in magazines in the UK and Australia. In addition a number of her stories have been broadcast on SoundArt Radio. Michelle lives in Brixham and gets inspiration from the beautiful South Devon coast.
You can reach Michelle at:
Michelle Jayne Heatley@facebook.com
It’s a wonderful double whammy for me today and I am very excited. It is Ebook Publication Day of my new novel – THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN. So get your Kindles warmed up and ready.
But there’s more! It is also paperback Publication Day of THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The Southern Hemisphere strikes lucky! Unfortunately the rest of my lovely readers in UK and elsewhere who are waiting for a paperback, rather than an ebook, will have to be patient until next summer when it will be unleashed in the Northern Hemisphere. Sorry about that, but it’s all about publishers’ schedules.
So what is the story?
Well, as it says on the tin, it is an epic story of love, loss and danger in paradise. About deceit and corruption, about the snake slithering into Eden.
With breathtakingly blue skies, stunning white beaches and glorious sunshine, the Bahamas is a slice of heaven. But it is 1943 and the world is at war. Even paradise isn’t safe. The military have set up training bases on the island and the Duke of Windsor is Governor.
Young Dodie Wyatt thinks she has escaped her turbulent past, but one night she finds a man stabbed in an alleyway and her whole world changes.
On the other side of Nassau a wealthy diplomat’s wife, Ella Stanford, has secrets to keep – and those secrets could put her life in danger.
When one of the richest men in the world, Sir Harry Oakes, is found brutally murdered in his bed, these two very different women are drawn together. Dodie finds love with a secretive American stranger on the island but events spiral into violence, greed and death, until Dodie and Ella have only each other to rely on as their lives are torn apart ….
What next? Ah, well, for more you have to read the book!
And isn’t the cover just gorgeous? Thank you, Sphere/Little Brown’s art department for a fabulous design.
Drop by again soon to see some pics of my research trip to all that sun-bleached sand and all those rum punches in the Bahamas …. well, someone had to do it!!
Today is Publication Day for SHADOWS ON THE NILE in the US and Canada. I am thrilled.
Review: “A stonkingly good read. A dazzling and energetic story with historical mystery and huge twists … The author demonstrates an incredible understanding of the period.” BestChicLit.com
It starts in 1912. Jessie Kenton hears her young brother, Georgie, scream in the middle of the night and wakes up the next morning to find him gone. Her parents never speak of him again. Twenty years later Jessie is haunted by the same nightmare when her other brother, Timothy, inexplicably disappears. In her quest to find him Jessie is helped by Sir Monty Chamford and together they plunge into a mysterious world of seances and mystics, nebulous clues and Egyptian artifacts. The trail leads to Egypt where Jessie must confront her own demons in the swirling sands of the desert. But all the time her missing brother, Georgie, is viewing the world from a different perspective and it is his poignant relationship with his siblings that ultimately allows him to confront the danger they face.
It’s Publication Day today for SHADOWS ON THE NILE, so as I’m too excited to work this morning, I thought I’d tell you a bit about why I write about faraway places.
I didn’t start out exotic. I started out very English. So what was it that made me take that leap into exotic settings when it came to writing? Well – as for a lot of things in life – I blame my mother! It just so happens that she was the daughter of a White Russian who escaped from St Petersburg during the Russian Revolution in 1917 and fled in a hair-raising journey across Siberia to China. So my mother lived her early years in a magical city called Tientsin in northern China and later, when I grew up in drizzly Wales hearing exotic tales of black snakes in bathrooms, acrobats in the streets and songbirds by the thousand in bamboo cages, I was entranced.
So how could I resist? Lured by this family connection to both China and Russia, I set about researching these two proud and powerful countries. And out of my hundreds of pages of notes emerged my first book, The Russian Concubine, which is set in China 1928.
But my Russian heritage had taken a grip on me and it wasn’t ready to let go. I became obsessed. And I mean obsessed! I ate, slept and dreamt all things Russian. It was as though I had to excavate the part of me that was caught up in my ancestry and find out what it means to be Russian. The result was that over the next three years I wrote three books set in Russia between 1910 and 1933 – taking place in Moscow, in St Petersburg and in a village in the Ural Mountains.
Only then, finally, was I ready to move on.
But I had learnt from experience and I knew that for a book to work for me, I had to fall wildly in love with whatever country my story was set in. I had to feel passionate about it. And I was lucky because it happened again. While researching China, I had on numerous occasions brushed up against Malaya with its gentle people and its elegant colonial past. Every time I thought what a spellbindingly beautiful country it is. So I chose to set my next book there – The White Pearl – in 1941, at the moment of the Japanese invasion.
In each of my books I am eager to explore what happens when the usual inner scaffolding of a person or of a society is stripped away at a time of stress, and when I came to write my next book, I was tempted far away from the humid tropics to the searing heat of Egypt.
This time it was the country’s ancient history that drew me to it. Its mysteries set up vibrations inside my head and I wanted to show how they could envelop and enchant my characters – just as Russia had done to me. 1932 was a time of political unrest that was causing schisms to open up in the structure of Egyptian life, a crucial and stressful moment that I felt would add depth and complexity to the powerful story that I wanted my characters to tell in SHADOWS ON THE NILE. It is a country marked by the burning scars of the desert, the breathtaking tombs of its pharaohs, the sweep of the Nile and the enigma of its people in 1932. Irresistible!!
Where next? Well, a research trip to the Bahamas felt good to me ….
This was the view from my window.
I was riding a train. The light was draining from the sky and turning the dusty Egyptian landscape crimson when a hand in a black robe came from behind and thrust a bread roll, smelling of spicy meat, at me. It was followed by a torrent of Arabic, not one word of which I understood, but their meaning was clear. I was being urged to share a meal by a woman in the seat behind. ‘Shukrun,’ I smiled, dragging it out of my meagre cache of Egyptian words. ‘Thank you.’
Kindness to a stranger. It was so unexpected and touched something deep inside me. Yet I found Egypt overflowing with such gestures, and despite the riots that were currently well under way in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, I was treated with warmth and mint tea wherever I went.
So why a rattling 10 hour train journey – instead of a fast and sanitised plane – from Cairo to Luxor? It was because I was hungry to see the country. I wanted to be a part of it, my feet firmly set on its Nile-irrigated soil. For hour after hour on the train I was mesmerised by its landscape scrolling past my window, its distant pink escarpments drifting in and out of view, as elusive as its ancient gods. But that wasn’t the reason I was here. My characters, Jessie and Monty, take the same train in 1932 and I needed to experience Egypt through their eyes.
Life on the other side of the window was endlessly fascinating. We stopped every few miles, sometimes for no apparent reason but other times at bustling towns whose presence was announced from afar by pencil-thin minarets that pierced the blue sky. Black-shrouded women gathered in chattering groups to wash their clothes in the canal that ran parallel to the rail track, while men wearing loose galabayas fished in it and boys swam and dive-bombed its murky waters. White herons strutted at its edge and palm trees leaned gracefully over it, offering shade. I wanted to jump out and join them.
During that strange and oddly changeless day, I caught sight of markets bursting with colourful fruits and level crossings with no gates where goats and children wandered at will. Rubbish heaps spilled into the canal like ugly scars outside each town and everywhere there were donkeys, always donkeys, pulling carts or carrying men and bundles on their backs, dwarfed by their loads, their spindly legs sticking out under them like lollipop sticks.
But above all it was the kindness that lodged in my mind. I want to make that extraordinary journey again, but this time I’ll take a bag of spicy meat rolls with me to share with a stranger.