Author Helen Young on the inspiration behind her new novel, Breakfast in Bogotá

Author Helen Young on the inspiration behind her new novel, Breakfast in Bogotá

Set in 1940s Colombia, Helen is actively crowdfunding her novel with Unbound. Here, she opens up about bringing a forgotten city to life and travelling thousands of miles in search of character.

 

Thanks for coming on the blog, Helen. So tell us the all important bit…what’s the book about?

Breakfast in Bogotá is about a broken architect trying to build something new. Firstly, for himself, but then for a nation – or so he thinks. The story begins in post-war Colombia – 1947 to be exact. It wasn’t that much different to Europe then. Everyday people were still reeling from hyper-inflated food and fuel prices, whilst the rich thrived. The novel opens with Luke Vosey, an architect, witnessing something horrific over breakfast in a central city cantina.

Luke has fled his life in Europe and a woman known only as Catherine. He thinks he’s safe in Colombia and out of it, but that’s far from true. He meets a young journalist, Camilo and a draughtswoman called Felisa. Through them, he sees that more people are broken in Colombia than in Europe. Events come to a head with the assassination of the leader of the liberal party on the streets of the capital. Following this, the people tear the city to shreds. That’s a real turning point for Bogotá, and for Luke. Things go full circle for him then. It’s a novel of redemption and learning to look back to move forwards – if he can.

Why Colombia?

I wanted to blow the lid off stereotype and show what came before the drug cartels. About three years ago I was in an area called La Merced in Bogotá and started to pay attention to the mock-Tudor architecture there. It was extraordinary – how high on this Andean plateau someone in the 1930s had decided to build these red brick Elizabethan-style houses. I thought there was something in that. I found the contrast fascinating and it got me thinking about the kind of city that came before the one we have today. Nowadays, the city is polluted and full of high-rise apartment blocks. In many places the past has been erased. It’s a cautious city now – most people still live behind barbed wire fences and with 24-hour security; when you look back at the 30s and 40s, these same streets are sweeping wide avenues with houses and low-level apartment blocks. The assassination of Gaitán on its streets and what this did to the people, how their grief manifested itself (in Bogotá’s destruction), fascinated me.

What did you find when you went looking?

I managed to get hold of some fantastic resources published by the national library in Bogotá. Maps and aerial-photography which show the city before the riots and after. It really helped me to build up a detailed plan of the city in the late 1940s. I really enjoyed laying the tram route (tram cars were set on fire and the lines destroyed by the rioting in ’48) over the modern day road plan and reinstating the grand railway stations and lines (also now lost). All these things exist only as scars on top of the modern city now. Those aerial-photographs enabled me to track the progress of the riots too – to see how far spread it was. Aside from the city centre and those buildings around the presidential palace, the rioters went after buildings they knew were owned by wealthy residents outside of the centre. On the images, you’d have a perfect street and then one house completely gutted. That’s how it was. That’s how broken things had become between the rich and poor.

Why crowdfund?

Why not? Unbound is a forward-thinking publisher who offer authors, like myself, the opportunity to get their words out there. It’s been a real lesson in organisation and personal empowerment to run my campaign. It’s crowdfunding now, if you’re interested in reading it too. A pledge at the following link gets you a copy of the book on publication day and your name in the book. I am working so hard to get this funded right now. I’d invite anyone to join me on this journey back to 1940s Colombia; it’s a real eye-opener, believe me.

You can pledge to pre-order a copy of Breakfast in Bogotá now at https://unbound.com/books/breakfast-in-bogota/

 

Guest post: Laura Laakso – Building Worlds with Words

Delighted to welcome Laura Laakso to the blog today as her debut novel, Fallible Justice, publishes. More delighted than usual as although it’s always great to have first time novelists featured on the blog, this novel was discovered by publisher, Louise Walters, through the Retreat West First Chapter Competition. You can read all about that here.

But today is all about the wonderful world that Laura has created for Fallible Justice. I was completely gripped by this atmospheric novel and I wouldn’t usually be remotely interested in a novel that features magic. But after reading the first chapter in the competition, I knew that this was going to be a novel worth looking out for. So, over to Laura.

Building Worlds with Words

World-building is a little bit like Marmite; writers either love it or hate it. Those who love it can have the habit of going overboard with details. A friend of mine used to write detailed treatises on the economics and politics of a world in which he set his Dungeons & Dragons campaign. We, the players, were expected to read them, but I don’t think any of us did. Why? Because the information was only interesting to its creator.

The above, I think, sums up perfectly world-building in novels, particularly in the sci-fi and fantasy genres, where the setting is not given. Every author has to find that balance between revealing enough to give the reader’s imagination wings and boring them to tears with the municipal facilities of a city the characters briefly visit. This is something I’ve been mindful of in recent years, given that my debut novel, Fallible Justice, begins a paranormal crime series Wilde Investigations.

Unlike Marmite, I love world-building. I could spend all day imagining different races and settings without ever getting bored. In fact, I’ve done just that on many occasions. But when it comes to my current novel series, I view world-building as part of the overall puzzle rather than a separate element. It’s a thread woven through the story instead of the scenery in the background.

When I began planning Fallible Justice, the original idea dictated the setting for the story. The plot hinged on otherworldly beings called the Heralds of Justice, who were capable of looking into a person’s soul to determine guilt or innocence, but also on modern technology. It made sense to settle for London, given that it is a city I know well. I never sat down to figure out the world as such, all the details grew organically from the plot. When I needed a group who were the keepers of peace and summoned the Heralds, it made sense to call them Paladins of Justice. I needed a degree of separation between the magical beings and humans, so the City of London borough became Old London, where the magic users live. The ruling class became Mages and my main character’s apprentice a Bird Shaman whom all pigeons adore.

The term magical realism seems like a contradiction, but I was always clear on wanting distinct consequences for the use of magic. It was also never going to be a solution to everything. Magic can’t heal a genetic illness any more than it can remove terminal cancer. The dead can’t be brought back to life. As enchanting as magic may be, the setting is rooted in the real world and no amount of power can replace antibiotics, mobile phones or public transport. There must also always be a cost associated with magic, both in terms of casting it and its consequences; the greatest example of this is the fact that the penalty for murder committed with the use of magic is death. And pushing your power to its limits means risking not just your magic reserves but your life.

Once I began writing Fallible Justice, I used one rule to guide my world-building: if it’s not relevant to the scene, don’t put it in. Thus I explained what Shamans were when the reader first meets Karrion the Bird Shaman, but the fact that Shamans can take animal companions didn’t come up until my main character, Yannia, met one such animal. The first chapter begins with Yannia channelling her power. In that way, the reader gets to experience what Yannia can do long before I give a name to what she is. But in that first chapter, I also began setting down Yannia’s limitations. She may have magic, but that doesn’t make her omnipotent. In fact, I believe she’s so relatable as a character because she’s deeply flawed.

As much fun as world-building can be, it must all be in service of the story. The story needs the world to provide context for the events and the characters’ actions, but the world is only relevant within the framework of the story. Striking a balance between the two means transporting the reader to the pages of the book and allowing them to live the story for themselves.

***

About the author: Laura is a Finn who has spent most of her adult life in England. She is currently living in Hertfordshire with a flatmate who knows too much and their three dogs. Books and storytelling have always been a big part of her life, be it in the form of writing fanfiction, running tabletop roleplaying games or, more recently, writing original fiction. When she is not writing, editing or plotting, she works as an accountant. With two degrees in archaeology, she possesses useful skills for disposing of or digging up bodies, and if her
internet search history is anything to go by, she is on several international watch lists. Her debut novel, Fallible Justice, will be published in November 2018 by Louise Walters Books and the sequel, Echo Murder, in June 2019. They are paranormal crime novels set in modern day London, but with magic, murder and general mayhem, and they begin the Wilde Investigations series.

You can keep up with Laura on the following social media pages:

      

And on her website: https://lauralaaksobooks.com/ and her author page on Goodreads.

The book is available in paperback and ebook from the following:

Louise Walters Books   Amazon UK   Amazon.com

 

 

Author Interview: CM Taylor on writing within theme, Brexit and his new novel Staying On

It’s great to have CM Taylor back on the blog on publication day for his new novel, Staying On. I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of this and I stayed up half the night to find out what would happen. It’s a funny and very moving (I cried!) story of a family that needs to face up to its past – a situation that’s brought to a head when Brexit comes along and their life in Spain no longer seems quite so sunny.

Craig, in the teaching you do, theme is a crucial element in guiding the story and the theme for me that came through strongly in Staying On is guilt and culpability. How it manifests, the twisted nature of it that makes people believe different things about the same situation. What made you want to explore this theme in this novel?

Shouldn’t a book in the final instance be about something – have a take on the world, an angle, something to say about how people are, how the world is? That’s what strong theme gives you.

One of the things I write and teach about is the idea that narrative art maps human change, and that characters in stories move from the denial and repression of certain feelings, into the awareness and exploration of those feelings, and then on to acting on them – either positively or negatively.

When you say there’s a strong element of guilt and culpability in the book, it’s true, and that to me is part of character development and theme, of how character carries theme across story, beginning with denial, (“It wasn’t me.” “That’s not how it was.” “It didn’t happen.” “I haven’t got a problem.” “There’s nothing to see here.”), moving into flashes of light, (“Maybe there is a problem.” “Maybe I did do something wrong.” “Maybe there is something I need to look at.”), then into acceptance or conscious surfacing, (“God, I do have an issue here.” “There is something I need to look.” “Maybe I did do something wrong.”), and on into being galvanised, (“I really do need to apologise.” “I really do need to make that clear.” “I do really need to tell the truth.”).

People use denial as self-protection. People lie to themselves about the things which are hardest to entertain. But denial has consequences. If you lie to yourself about one thing it seeps over into other things and leads to moral corruption. As Saul Bellow wrote: “Everybody knows there is no fineness or accuracy of suppression; if you hold down one thing, you hold down the adjoining.” Denial surfaces elsewhere in many negative ways, it squirts out hot and sideways into anger, addiction, failed intimacy, extreme competitiveness, self-harm.

I don’t think that this gap between how different characters see things, or the gap between how a character sees things and how it really was, is necessarily just a theme of this novel, I think it’s a part of every character for me, because it’s part of this journey from denial and repression to acceptance and action. Human change has a pattern and self-deceit is part of that pattern. Guilt is an aspect of repression, and accepting your culpability is a stage on the road to accepting the world as it is.

One of your main characters, Tony, is adept at not saying the things that really matter and putting a brave face on things. Never letting people know what’s really going on behind that bright surface. Did you know when you set out how things would turn out for Tony or did he take you places you hadn’t planned?

As above, Tony – as with us all – is on a journey from repression and denial to (ideally) expression and health. Crucial with Tony on his particular journey is his generation, which is that post-war generation, brought up in a world where emotional connection was scarce and rationed. Imagine being a kid where most adults around you had PTSD and didn’t even know it. Jesus. Decode that. And many of that generation, those post-war babies, tend towards the stoic and repressed. They’re very non-presumptive. Or they can be.

So Tony’s particular brand of suppression is influenced by that generation. That’s in the mix, but then it’s also just him. I know lots of older people, volubly acting out their fear and confusion at the world through anger and nostalgia, but then I also know a lot of older people, like Tony, who radically suppress their own needs – sublimating their impulses and being less clamorous, living for other people. I find it beautiful and generous. That said – and this is the rub of Tony’s dilemma – there come points in life where you need to say, “No. I need something here. I need sustenance and nourishment. I can’t suppress my own needs all the time.”

And that’s Tony’s dilemma, a modest, sweet guy who’d always put himself second, who urgently must realise that if he puts himself second again, then there’s going to be none of him left. That’s hard. Especially when you have no skills, no practice in putting yourself first, and all the social and emotional grooves in your life run against it, run for decades against what you now must do.

All that is in the mix with Tony. I knew he was repressing, and I knew what he was repressing, and I knew that it would have to blossom for him to have his emotional denouement, but I didn’t necessarily know how that was going to happen. I knew the suppression but not the expression. He had that wriggle room.

Tony’s story of dealing with a failing business alongside family dramas is told with humour and at the same time is also very moving, it is sad and hopeful and funny and melancholy, and really very true about what it is to be human today. As writers, this is something we all aspire to achieve in the novels we write so what advice can you give to the readers of the blog on how they can create such compelling narratives within what appears to be, on the surface, just an everyday story of a family.

Stay right behind the eyes of your characters and process what events mean for them. There are high stakes in everyone’s life. Success, failure, love, rejection, hope, desire. Are people going to get what they want? Are they going be rejected and not get what they want? Are they going to learn or keep making the same mistakes?

The trick to making an ostensibly everyday story compelling is to dwell on the internal, on the emotional stakes at play. The word, “No,” might be a single word of dialogue externally, but internally it might mean, “Everyone always says no to me.” Or it might mean, “I am never going to get what I want.” Or it might mean, “Right, I had enough of people saying no and now I’m on the march.”

The key to rendering everyday situations into dramatic material is to dwell behind the eyes of the protagonist of the scene, to show the emotional stakes, and to show at what point this person is in the development from repression and denial to expression – to show how does the moment charge that journey. Does it crush them into further repression? Push them over into expression and self-activation?

What is at stake? How does it move the journey? Find that and you have found drama.

With Brexit coming very soon this is a very timely story but the politics of the situation are largely irrelevant in this family’s life as they face up to the past in order to discover if they can have a happier future. Do you think despite the large role politics plays in the collective psyche, mainly due to the way it’s presented in the media, that this is true for us all. That it’s the human stories that go on irrelevant of what the politicians are doing, that really matter to people? 

Well Brexit gets things going, because the book is about a British expat couple in Spain who wonder if they might get kicked out. One of them, Laney, wants to stay in Spain, and one of them, Tony, wants to go home to England. And Brexit puts pressure on that, because Tony is emboldened from his meekness by the situation with Brexit, whereas with Laney her reasons for wanting to stay now appear more flimsy and unlikely. So, the larger political situation acts as a trigger for the internal repressions of the main characters, plus it brings to the surface the subterranean conflicts locked into their marriage. It brings things to the boil.

As to whether it is more human stories that really matter to people, well the book-reading public is a broad church, and political non-fiction is selling well, while political fiction – which is hard to do without coming across as hectoring or didactic – can sometimes do well. So, I think some people want work which is in-tune to the internal verities of love and relationships and self-development, whereas others seek more politically-attuned work. Personally, I want both.

But a strong aspect of the art of the novel is its ability to offer a sense of human closeness, and I strongly wanted to tell a personal story about Brexit, away from the headlines and the slogans and the politicians, to show how normal folk trapped in a normal situation were being affected by a broader political situation, and how crucially it mapped onto issues with their own pasts, and their own relationships. So, yes, I focused on the personal, the internal, because I believe that is the strongest suit of the art of the novel. Though as I say above, seminal political fiction has been written – it is just most obtrusively political fiction is sophomore and partisan and dull.

Now that Tony and Laney’s story has gone out in the world, what are you writing next?

Oh God, this question. It may make me cry.

Well, in no particular order, I’ve just finished the final draft of a TV pilot based on one of my novels. And I’ve been commissioned to co-write a movie which I can’t really say too much about, so I’m tucking into the first draft of that. And I’ve had interest in republishing a couple of my early novels, so I just spent a few days giving them a haircut, purging them of juvenilia, before sending them out. Then, because I’ve got a book coming out, I’m writing blog posts and articles.

And yes, by now you can see that I’m avoiding the real intent of the question. I’m repressing the truth through guilt! And there’s a reason for that. I’m developing two novels simultaneously, and I haven’t worked out which one I want to lead with. One is a character-led thriller series, quite socially realistic, and the other is a stand-alone tech thriller, more heightened, but again character-led. I’m flip-flopping between these two and am not sure which one of these two works of fiction will emerge as my next book, to be quite honest.

***

Thanks for giving us this insight into your new novel and your writing tips, Craig.

Keep up to date with Craig’s many writing project on his website. Get your copy of Staying On on Amazon or Waterstones.

 

 

 

 

Guest post: Mark Brownless – The Hand of an Angel

Today it is our delight to welcome Mark Brownless to our page as part of his blog blitz for ‘The Hand of an Angel’.  This “shattering medical thriller with a heart-stopping climax” is his first novel and we’re keen to find out all about it.

***

Hi Amanda! Thanks very much for having me along to talk about my book, The Hand of an Angel.

Hi Mark, it’s a pleasure to have you with us. Can you tell us what inspired you to explore the concept of killing yourself temporarily to try and find out if there is an afterlife?

In the 80s, as a nerdy teenager, I was always fascinated by unexplained phenomena, things like alien abduction, Bigfoot and near-death experience. So, when I started writing I had the idea of someone looking back after a near-death experience, and how that might shape their view of the world from now on. But the subtext is all about reality. What did they see? Was it real, or a construct created by their oxygen-starved brain? These are common themes throughout the book.

In one of the first creative writing classes I ever went to the teacher said that there is always some element of autobiography in the first novels we write. Do you think this is true of yours and if so, which elements of your life can be found in this novel? I’m presuming you haven’t tried to see if there is an afterlife!

No, quite right! The story mentions that seeing the afterlife, whatever it might be, is a one-way trip, so I haven’t been there as yet!

My mother-in-law was glad that the children of my main characters, Tom and Sarah, were both boys, otherwise she would’ve felt that they were too similar to my wife and I. Tom and Sarah aren’t us, however, but they don’t feel like characters I created, either. They feel like real people to me – I like a quote from Stephen King that says that he doesn’t create characters, he just tells a story about people that already exist – and that’s how I think of my characters.

When did you first start writing fiction?

Very recently. About three years ago I read a post-Fleming James Bond novel which I hated with a passion, because it wasn’t anything like Bond. I suppose I could’ve written a complaint letter, but I sat down and wrote four chapters of a ‘proper’ Bond story. My wife and I were away for the weekend at the time, so it was a little tense when I spent the whole weekend writing rather than spending time with her! Immediately after that I just started writing a conversation between two characters that became a pivotal moment in The Hand of an Angel.

Who are your favourite authors and why?

I guess my favourite author is Stephen King. I grew up with his books – Carrie, The Shining, and more meaningfully for me perhaps, The Stand and It. I also need to mention the late James Herbert, and even Guy N Smith, the latter who wrote Night of the Crabs, which led me to the former’s The Rats and The Fog and then Stephen King. I love Bernard Cornwall’s historical fiction and this has influenced Locksley, my Robin Hood short story series. Now I read so much diverse stuff that it’s hard to pick a favourite, but recently I’ve loved CJ Tudor’s The Chalk Man and Stu Turton’s The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle.

What is the book you wish you’d written and why?

That’s hugely difficult because I’ve read so many great books. I guess if you wanted to create a legacy for yourself, as well as being successful and recognised you would want to be influential. So in genre fiction terms, you can’t get any more influential than The Lord of the Rings – there’s so little fantasy that isn’t influenced by it in some way that to have been the imagination that created those worlds and the possibility for others, is extraordinary.

Are you working on your next novel now? If so can you tell us anything about it yet?

I’m working on the second instalment of my Robin Hood short story series, each episode is being released on a monthly basis and should be available for pre-order by the time you read this. As for a full length novel, as you alluded to earlier, I’ve allowed my childhood to influence me and I’m writing a horror story set in a quiet fictional village. Once again I’ll be looking at people’s perception of reality – this time with their memories of childhood – coupled with another unexplained phenomenon in the form of spontaneous human combustion. It’s called The Shadowman and I hope it will be available by the end of the year.

Thanks Mark for talking with us today!

***

‘The Hand of an Angel’ is available now for £6.99 on Amazon

You can also find our more about Mark and his writing on his website

 

Mark Brownless lives and works in Carmarthen, West Wales. He has been putting ideas on paper for some years now but only when the idea for THE HAND OF AN ANGEL came to him in the autumn of 2015 did he know he might be able to write a book. Mark likes to write about ordinary people being placed in extraordinary circumstances, is fascinated by unexplained phenomena, and enjoys merging thriller, science fiction and horror.

Mark is also fascinated by myths and legends such as those of Robin Hood and King Arthur. This has culminated in the release of his short story series, Locksley, a Robin Hood story, which will have new volumes added each month.

 

Year of Indie Debuts : Magnetism – Ruth Figgest

Firstly an apology for the delay in posting the next in my series of Indie Debut blogs, I can only plead real life getting in the way, along with a healthy dose of snow!

But I’m back and this time speaking to Ruth Figgest about her novel, Magnetism, published by Myriad.

Hi Ruth, thanks for speaking to me about your book and your writing. Your story moved back and forth through time with ease, never losing the reader, so how do you manage to keep us on board? What techniques do you find helps in anchoring the narrative without being heavy handed?

Bearing in mind that it could potentially be frustrating for a reader, I tried to incorporate the real world into the story, in order for the reader to get references to historical events. In the first two chapters there are also references in the text to indicate the shift about to happen. I’ve  worked on ensuring that the voices of the characters remain in keeping with the times (in terms of terminology and what’s happening in the world) and their age at the time of the chapter. It’s all hugely helped by having the date of each chapter at the start, of course.

You kind of tell the story backward, so it to me it does have the sense of an autobiography, which lends a certain kind of veracity to the character’s stories. What strengths do you think starting with both an end and a beginning bring to your writing?

I think it’s really important to understand the story arc, that in writing a story you are constantly working toward the end. I’m pleased that it encouraged the sense of veracity about the characters by laying out the story of their lives through this structure. I had hoped that it would encourage interest in the material and create an satisfying tension for the reader, who (almost) always knows more about the future of the characters than they do.

I am very interested in playing around with time. We never remain fully in the present. We experience thoughts and associations constantly; our minds drift back to the past, and forward to the future. The inclusion of the past in this story allows the reader to understand the characters at a deeper level.

Having said that, it’s important for the writer to know the actual chronological experience of the characters, because otherwise it won’t make sense to the reader. The novel was written out of sequence. I came to understand the characters more and more in the process of creation and then I also added work that I thought would be useful for characterisation and plot development, but I always knew that Caroline would die, and that it would be a key dramatic development for Erica. 

The mother – daughter relationship, does it ever, can it ever run smoothly? I loved the way you write them, how the mother gives this impression on one hand of being laid back and not interfering in her daughter’s life and yet the second later is doing exactly that, attempting to control her in the same breath as protesting that she isn’t. I’m not going to ask if this is built on real life experience here, but is it based on real life observations?

I honestly don’t know what smoothly might look like because I think people are messy and imperfect and intimate relationships between messy and imperfect people are ripe with opportunities for misunderstandings and clashes as they each try to figure out what they want and who they want to be. Real life observations and personal experience tell me that a new mother is still in the process of becoming. She brings her fear, her immaturity and her baggage as well as her aspirations to parenting. 

Parents usually try their best to make their children feel secure and loved and confident, but their best might not be good enough or apt, because children are all different. It’s a fine line between supporting and stifling because it’s all too easy to fail to see a child as separate from yourself. It’s a formula for failure on both sides. Children have an idea of their parents which is incomplete; they fail to see their parents as individuals outside of their role. Parents can have issues with letting go, of allowing their children to be different, to want different things, to become grown-ups.

The plastic surgery in the book is such an interesting dynamic, and the sense that even though now we can ‘fix’ everything we don’t like about ourselves, we still remain unsatisfied. Was that something you wanted to explore in the story?

Yes. I wanted to explore the experience of women with regard to ageing and appearance. In the environment of this book plastic surgery is common place. I think the mother, Caroline, wants her daughter, Erica, to have a more pleasing appearance because she thinks it might improve her chances with men and a beautiful daughter might also reflect well upon her. But there’s a sense of anxiety about this even for Caroline. Though she pushes a young Erica to have surgery, she resists getting her own teeth cosmetically enhanced. The search for this kind of “perfection” becomes never ending and never satisfying. It is the result of fear. In the future the faces of people who die of old age may look forty years old, but they’ll still be dead.

How do you create the atmosphere in all the different locations and timescales you use? What research tools do you find helpful?

I think you have to think about popular culture, products, technology and clothing as well as attitudes. Checking out what was happening at the time of the story historically was helpful for structuring the story. I thought about putting the characters in situations where they think about events in the bigger world, and the growth of feminism, and of drug use and sexual freedoms are always in the background of the novel. I also tried to include climate in the book. In the Midwest, summer humidity and heat pervades absolutely everything.

What are you writing now, another American setting or somewhere else this time?

I always try to have two or more things on the go at once, so that I don’t take anything so seriously that I get anxious about it. It also means if one thing seems to be stuck, there’s something else to work on. I am presently making good progress with a novel which is based in Oxford, but I’m also working on a couple of other stories. One set in Turkey fifteen years ago, and another based in the UK. I’m sure I’ll write about an American setting again, but maybe not immediately.

What does your writing day look like?

There’s something about the rhythm of walking that helps me with beginning to write. I daydream about my characters and, when I’m driving or when I’ve got free time, I think with intention about their lives and potential plot developments. I’m a morning person so the best day is a very early walk with the dog and writing until the rest of my responsibilities press in and force me to stop.

I have a wonderful study and I climb up the stairs to work with expectation and a sense of excitement. I almost always write to classical music and I usually start by transcribing longhand work from my current notebook onto the screen, or with something I know needs more tweaking to make it good. This starting point gets me back into the work smoothly and after a while, I find that I’m writing new material and I can see the way ahead. This is a lovely sensation and at this point I allow myself to make a coffee because I know exactly where I’m going when I get back to the computer. Every few weeks I write with others at my home – we call it a “Just write” session – People can come and go as needed, but most turn up at ten and write without discussion until one o’clock when we might then chat about what we’ve been doing. It’s a good energy, this writing with others. 

And for my silly question, are you a long walk in the cold sort of person, or would you rather be waiting in the pub for everyone else to get there?

I’m guessing it’s the afternoon or evening, so I’m definitely waiting in the pub watching people while day dreaming, or reading a book. I’m extremely happy to wait in these circumstances.

 

You can buy Ruth’s book here, and if you have a mother I think you’ll find it hits home and makes you both grimace and grin as you read it.

 

 

Guest post: Mandy Huggins – Brightly Coloured Horses

A big welcome to Mandy Huggins for today’s blog. Mandy has two new books to promote, one of which is published by Retreat West Books. You may recall Mandy’s poetic short story, Giddy With It, in last year’s anthology from Retreat West Books, What was Left. If all that wasn’t keeping her busy, she’s just been announced as judge for a travel writing competition from imustbeoff.com.

Those of you who have been following the exciting developments at Retreat West Books will know that my first full-length short story collection, Separated From the Sea, will be published in June. I’m really enjoying working on the book with Amanda, and I can’t wait to see it in print.

However, that’s not the only fabulous thing that’s happening in my writing career this year – it seems that just like buses, books come along in twos! I’m also thrilled to announce that my first flash fiction collection, Brightly Coloured Horses, has just been published by Chapeltown Books.

I love the flash fiction form, the challenge of crafting a complete story in a few hundred words and striving to make every one of those words count. Capturing entire worlds, creating plots and characters, evoking a gamut of emotions in a few short paragraphs, fully aware that you have to pull the reader in from the very first sentence. And you know you’ve got it right when people tell you that they were moved to tears in those few hundred words, or that they couldn’t stop laughing, or that they want to know ‘what happened to her next.’

And it’s amazing how many oak trees grow from these tiny flash acorns. So many of the stories in Brightly Coloured Horses have developed into longer stories, many of which will appear in Separated From the Sea – because I had to find out what happened next as well!

Publishing and promoting two books in the same year isn’t for the faint-hearted – I have a full time job in engineering as well – but I’m certainly learning fast. I want to give both my books their best chance in the world, and I’m lucky to be working with two dedicated indie publishers. I know Amanda is totally committed to making Retreat West Books a success for both herself and the authors she signs, and I really appreciate her faith in my writing.

Brightly Coloured Horses by Mandy Huggins

“Twenty-seven tales of betrayal and loss, of dreams and hopes, of lovers, liars and cheats. Stories with a strong sense of place, transporting us from the seashore to the city, from India’s monsoon to the heat of Cuba, and from the supermarket aisle to a Catalonian fiesta. We meet a baby that never existed, a car called Marilyn, a one-eyed cat, and a boy whose kisses taste of dunked biscuits.

These stories all have something in common; each is a glimpse of what it’s like to be human. We make mistakes, we do our best, and most of the time we find hope”

Already garnering 5-star reviews, Brightly Coloured Horses is available both in paperback and for Kindle.

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Thanks Mandy! The cover of Separated From the Sea will be unveiled tomorrow (Wednesday, 28th March 2018) across our social media.

 

Brightly Coloured Horses is available via Amazon and Book Depository

You can follow Mandy on Twitter.

Mandy is judging a travel writing competition at imustbeoff.com