I’ve really enjoyed my first quarter’s reading this year. As I’m sure I’ve told you before, I love to read almost as much as I love to write, and I strongly believe that the more good writing I read, the more my own writing improves.
I generally choose to read books that have been recommended by other people, mostly my WP reviewer friends. Once again they’ve picked real winners. I’ve also read a couple of well-known authors whose books I’ll always turn to (Jasper Fford and Isabel Allende) and a couple of instructive books to hone my ‘word-smithery’ (Kathy Steinemann’s Writer’s Lexicon) and to improve my poetry-crafting (Colleen Chesebro’s Wordcraft).
It has long been one of my missions to read more authors from South Africa and the African continent, since I feel we are frequently under-represented in the wider world. You’ll see that my first four reads were all SA authors, after which I spread my reading wings and flew north to find Jude Italkali in Uganda.
I hadn’t read a collection of short stories for ages, but Chris Nelson’s excellent collection, The Beautiful Silence, has re-kindled my appetite. As soon as I’d finished reading Chris’s book, a reading recommendation made to me by Liz Gauffreau* on the thread of a post about Magical Realism on Jacqui Murray’s excellent site, led me to seek out a short story by Gabriel García Márquez, The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World – a delightful read! Encouraged by the fact that I found a copy via Mrs Google, I also sought out Ernest Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro, which I’ve been keen to read ever since I began dipping into Hemingway’s Boat by Paul Hendrickson. My obsession with Hemingway’s prose continues.
Here are the books I read as the scorching South African summer mellowed into a glorious golden autumn. My next round up will find me shivering as we head into the depths of winter!
As a writer, I know how exciting it is to receive a review from a reader, and I offer a big, big thank you to my readers (and listeners, now I’ve three books published as audiobooks) who’ve taken the time and trouble to rate/review my books. That aside, to know someone has read one of my books is enough.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ *A quick heads up for poetry lovers: Liz Gauffreau is hosting a live poetry event Poets in the Blogosphere, on 23 April 2022 from 4-5:30 PM ET. This is a perfect opportunity to enjoy poetry being read out loud. Just as it should be. You can find out more here.
Spirit of the Shell Man, the sequel to Song of the Sea Goddess will be released next month. Set in the same fictional town, located somewhere on the beautiful west coast of South Africa, our favourite characters return in a new adventure – Albertina and the Aunties, the Professor and little Toti, Abdu and Jannie are all back, ready to face whatever new challenges await them.
It is with the greatest pleasure that I offer you a free Advance Reader Copy from Booksprout: simply click here to download your copy and start reading.
Here’s the blurb:
“A series of strange events accompany the delivery of an unusual wooden box to the bookish Professor who lives on the hill, while down by the sleepy harbour a dusty convoy of huge earth-moving machines roll into town. Soon afterwards, an expensive-looking yacht arrives, skippered by an enigmatic sea captain, accompanied by her weird and troublesome little crew who cause chaos in Albertina’s chicken-run and wreak havoc in the posh new hair salon.
The mysterious mute captain, her nose permanently buried in an old notebook, is clearly seeking something. Meanwhile the Professor’s interest is piqued by an unusually attentive congregation of praying mantises in his back yard. Then, as construction work begins on the unspoiled hillside beyond the town’s looming headland, the disturbance of long-buried bones unleashes a grim and ghostly presence from the ancient past with the potential to destroy the tranquil little town.
Join the cast of colourful characters from Song of the Sea Goddess, as they embark on a new adventure where legend and reality intertwine, and once again they must join forces to combat a deadly threat to their otherwise peaceful lives.”
The ebook and paperback will be available to purchase on Amazon, Kobo and Google Books in March, and the recording of the audiobook is underway. I’m really excited to share my new novel with you!
P.S. thanks so much to Paula Light of Light Motifs for her lovely review of Song ofthe Sea Goddess. It really made my day when I saw it this morning. Do pop over and take a look around Paula’s site!
Wonderful writer, reader and reviewer, Diana of Myths of the Mirror blog has thrown down her velvet gauntlet for a fun writing challenge. Here’s what she says: “I don’t know anyone who owns a Kindle (or other ebook reader) and isn’t buried in books. We groan as we add more to the stack… then laugh about it and buy more! That’s my situation anyway.”
That’s my situation too!
Here are the details of Diana’s challenge – The Teetering TBR Pile – the challenge is open until 23 January if you’d like to join in too.
This is my response:
Ode to My Kindle
Kindle, my Kindle, how do you compare to those wretched stacks of curling pages whose covers dim in daylight’s brightness spines rendered unreadable by old age?
Shelves piled high with neither rhyme nor reason unruly stacks wobbling and tottering set to tumble in thunderous cascades engulfing unwary readers in words.
Kindle, my Kindle, how long has it been since first we browsed those virtual bookshelves hovering o’er Amazon’s icons bright daring downloads at the click of a key?
Far have we travelled by land, air and sea since I first loaded a heap of beach reads oh, my Kindle, faithful companion never rejecting yet another book.
While you’re here, fellow overstuffed e-readers, can I just tempt you to just one more teensy-weensy book? The book birthday freebie offer I was running has finished, but you can download Song of the Sea Goddess for a snip: USA ~ UK ~ IND ~ AUS ~ CAN ~ ESP ~ South Africa and the Rest of the World
As 2021 draws to a close, although there are aspects of the year I’d prefer to forget, I’m looking back with a happy and satisfied smile on the books I’ve enjoyed in this second half of the year.
I love to read almost as much as I love to write, and I firmly believe that the more good writing I read, the more my own writing improves.
Here’s what I read as our wet and windy winter gave way to a hot and breezy summer. The most recently read books are shown first.
Once again I’ve enjoyed my half-year’s reading. Books I’ve frequently found via reviews and recommendations here on WordPress, including a nice helping of works by fellow indie authors. I’ve read a mixture of old books and new – mostly prose and poetry – a long, long history/geography of Africa, and a witty and instructive writer’s manual. Thanks to the latter, written by Kathy Steinmann, my latest MS is all the more sparkly and shiny!
More news on my new release coming soon.
As a writer I know how exciting it is to receive a review from a reader, and I offer a big, big thank you to my readers (and listeners, now I’ve two books published as audiobooks) who’ve taken the time and trouble to rate/review my books. That aside, to know someone has read one of my books is enough.
I continue to faithfully post a review of all the books I’ve read on Goodreads and usually on Bookbub, so long as the book comes up in a search. It’s good to recognise fellow writers and give something back for the enjoyment I’ve had from their words.
Happy reading, happy writing and a Happy New Year!
Following the success of the audiobook version of ‘Song of the Sea Goddess’, I’m delighted to announce that my popular historical fantasy fiction novel, ‘Following the Green Rabbit’ is now also out on audio. It’s currently available on Amazon ~ Audible ~ Kobo and within the next week or so should be available from most other audiobook sellers. Narrated by the same wonderful narrator, Terry Lloyd Roberts, and produced by Devon Martin at Audioshelf, here in Cape Town, I couldn’t be more pleased with it. You can listen to a sample here:
If you’ve been following my current Six Sentence Story serial, ‘Do you believe in faeries?‘ you’ll see from where characters Bryony, Bethany and Mr Eyre originated. Their first adventure took them back in time from 1911 some 200 or so years (I was never precise), but our present mini-series, which picks up from where the novel left off, has taken them on an even more fantastical adventure!
For ‘readers of words’ the novel is of course still available in paperback and as an ebook.
Over the past half year I’ve enjoyed hosting the Launch Pad spot for some lovely guests. Now we’re approaching the end of the year, I thought it would be good to catch up with them and find out what they are working on now.
First on the spot, back in May, was internationally bestselling author, Lizzie Chantree, who had just released her latest romance, Shh… It’s our secret. Checking in on Lizzie’s social media, she already has another book out, The Woman Who Felt Invisible. Now that’s impressive! Click on the cover to view on Amazon.
Working as a stationery supervisor and a sitter to a pair of internet famous, delinquent dogs, wasn’t how former cyber-specialist, Olivia, imagined her life turning out. Working in a tiny cubicle with a decrepit computer and being overlooked had suited her for a while, but now she’s fed up, lonely and determined to make the world ‘see’ her again. Old school friend, Darius, wants to fill Olivia’s days with romance, but their love of technology has taken them on very different paths. Gorgeous undercover policeman Gabe is steadfast in finding out if Olivia was part of an online scam, but something doesn’t feel right and he suspects someone else was manipulating her life. Can love blossom from the most deceptive of starts? And can someone who feels lost, find a way to flourish against all odds?
Next on the Launch Pad was Jude Itakali, who joined us in June to promote his wonderful new poetry collection, Crossroads (Winds of Love). I had an inter-continental chat with Jude the other day, via the wonder of Whatsapp, and this is what he had to say about his current writing project:
Ahhh, what can I say? Writing my first novel has been a rollercoaster ride, weaving through hopes, fears and even moments of bliss. It has probably been the greatest challenge I’ve ever undertaken, but still a most enjoyable one.
The original inspiration for writing my upcoming novel was actually from a poetic story I wrote over a year ago on my blog. I remember many of the comments saying it would make an outstanding novel. Once I was done publishing my debut poetry book, I knew that it was possible to get a book out into the world, so I started working on the novel. My core drive comes from a deepest realization that writing is what truly feeds my soul; what makes me happiest. I have always had a dream to write and be read, and I’m living half that dream for now, but that’s plenty too.
The initial promo campaign for my debut novel (coming in Spring 2022) starts January, so I can’t reveal much until we’ve decided on some marketing details with the publisher. Here’s a little teaser verse I wrote about a few of the themes you’ll find in the book:
“Be it born to darkness and sacrifice, Or be it raised amidst love and hope, Those who dwell under light and freedom, Or those shackled to ways preordained – The cruelest curses stem from our greatest blessings And yet some are cursed, so that others may be blessed.”
I hope that soon you will all walk, love, run and creep, along the thin line between blessing and curse, in my upcoming YA fantasy saga.
In July, I had the pleasure of hosting Paul English, my writing buddy from up the road. Paul is another highly prolific author and back in July, the first book in his sci-fi trilogy, Scorched Earth: Arrival, had not long been published. We regularly get together for a ‘writerly chat’ over coffee and cake, so I’m well up on what Paul’s been up to. Here’s his comment between mouthfuls of carrot cake:
“Thanks for inviting me back on your blog. Since the last time I was over there, I’ve completed the second book of the Scorched Earth trilogy, Scorched Earth: Takeover. In a nutshell, the book takes up the story again about a month after the alien Drahux Empire arrived on Earth in Scorched Earth: Arrival. The tension rises as aliens are slowly taking over the planet, while our broken heroes are struggling to pick themselves up in order to fend off the alien threat before its too late.”
Not one to rest on his laurels, Paul is already busy with the final part of the trilogy. You can follow his progress over on his blog, Backroom Bulletin.
Prehistoric fiction author, Jacqui Murray, joined us on the Launch Pad in August, where she shared her insights into how she found her writer’s voice and how this enabled her to follow her passion for writing the books she truly wanted to share with the world. At the time, her second book in her Dawn ofHumanity Trilogy, Laws of Nature, had recently been released.
I caught up with Jacqui via email and this is what she said about her progress with the third book in the trilogy:
“After several months of stodgy progress, Natural Selection is finally moving forward. Which is good because when it comes to writing, I have no Plan B. It either works or I’m f****. Yes, I understand all novels come with the warning, ‘some assembly required’. My fear is that when I’m done, there will be pieces leftover. None so far! Check back with me in January.”
Jacqui sent me the cover pic in the meantime. Doesn’t that whet your appetite?
In September, I was delighted to host Michelle Navajas, international best selling poet, on the Launch Pad, where she shared her writing journey with us, setting out what has inspired her to write her ever-growing series of poetry books. This was her reply when I emailed her to find out what she’s working on at the moment.
“I am currently working on my 6th book which is the second edition of ‘After Rain Skies’ – a collection of true and inspiring stories of abuse and violence. The second edition will highlight other forms of abuse which I’d refused to write about in the first edition due to their highly sensitive nature. Now, I finally have got the courage to write about them.”
Here’s Michelle pictured with some of the awards she has earned in recognition of her unique, meaningful and highly accessible style of poetry.
Next up on the Launch Pad was novelist and poet, Liz Gauffreau, whose deeply moving collection of syllabic poetry, Grief Songs, was published in October. A brief flurry of emails revealed some very exciting developments in Liz’s literary life.
Here’s what Liz told me:
“Recently, I’ve had a short story, “New England Gothic,” published in The Chamber Magazine, a horror magazine, and another of my short stories, “A Formal Feeling Comes,” was published in Remington Review. Each publication is a bit out of the ordinary for me, as I’ve never written a horror story before and didn’t intend to with “New England Gothic.” “A Formal Feeling Comes” is a reprint. The first journal that published it changed the ending in a way that contradicted everything that came before it. (I won’t agree to that again!)
I’ve also just had a story, “Bonnie and Clyde Rob the Enosburg Falls National Bank,” accepted as part of a new venture that creates a video reading of the story as the means of publication. We’ll have to wait and see whether anything comes of it!
I have a collection of short stories planned for release in 2023. The stories all take place in my home town of Enosburg Falls, Vermont. “Bonnie and Clyde Rob the Enosburg Falls National Bank” is one of them.
Currently, I’m working on a new novel set at the Sheldon Poor Farm in Sheldon Springs, Vermont. It was the last poor farm in Vermont. The state shut it down in 1968, which is the year the novel takes place. I have a great deal of research ahead of me, so I’m more in the inspiration stage right now.”
My final guest this year was Tom Burton, who joined us last month, having recently released his second collection of short stories, Pocketful of Time. Tom also shared some interesting insights into writing craft with his ‘Three Top Guidelines’, garnered from his own experience as a storyteller.
When I caught up with Tom earlier this week, I discovered that he’d had one of those writer’s eish! moments and accidentally lost quite a large chunk of the newest draft of his forthcoming historical short story collection. What with that and all the activity associated with the forthcoming festive season, Tom has had to postpone its release until next year.
If Pocketful of Time is anything to go by, be sure to look out for Tom’s new book in 2022!
I’d like to thank all the authors who took time out to spend time with us on the Launch Pad spot last year, and who’ve just updated us about their latest progress and projects. If you’re reading this and would like a spot on the Launch Pad to talk about your new releases and literary adventures in 2022, please let me know.
In the meantime, I’m hoping to share news of my own new release next year.
Welcome to Paris, where we find ourselves just outside the Gard du Nord, the imposing railway station in the north of the city, for another stop on our literary tour through the pages of my novels. You may remember that we previously visited the ‘city of lovers’ almost a year ago, when we caught up with Laura and Greg from The Silver Locket in the Père Lachaise cemetery.
As I explained then, Paris was as special to Laura, as it is to me, and I drew heavily on my own experiences of visiting that wonderful city when I was writing the book. Paris was the first overseas location to which I travelled with my husband, back in 1985, when we were very, very young. We visited the city during the Easter Weekend, travelling by ferry and train, and stayed in the two hotels mentioned in the excerpt below – for the very same reason.
Laura was just opening a tin of soup for her lunch when the phone rang. It was Greg.
“Hi, Law, what are you doing next weekend?”
“I’ve nothing planned, Greg. Why?”
“Come to Paris with me. I’ll send you the plane ticket.”
“What, Paris, for the weekend?” Laura had to admit she was excited at the prospect. This was more like the old Greg. “That’s a bit extravagant, isn’t it?”
“The thing is, I’m down to go to a conference there the following week, but I thought if I arrived early, you could come over and we could make a special weekend of it. I know you love Paris, we could stay in that same hotel by Gare du Nord.”
“That would be fabulous, really, Greg.”
“Okay then, it’s settled, I’ll sort out the tickets now. You should get them mid-week. Just make sure you get yourself to the airport in good time.”
“Yes, Greg, of course, listen I…”
“Sorry, Law, gotta go, duty calls.” He rang off abruptly.
Laura looked at the receiver. Well, that was a surprise, a very nice one too. Laura did love Paris, and it was special to her and Greg too. Their first trip away together had been to Paris. They’d gone for a week. They’d spent the first two nights in the Hotel Apollo, opposite the station, but couldn’t afford to stay there longer, so had moved to a cheaper hotel round the corner. She couldn’t remember its name, but she did remember the very squeaky bed. Laura shook her head in embarrassment, her face feeling flushed even now. Everyone had stared at them smirking at breakfast, or at least that what she’d thought at the time.
Ahem. On with the tour…
The glass pyramid outside the famous Louvre Museum hadn’t been built when we first visited Paris, although it was finished by the time that Laura and Greg went there in 1989, several years before Dan Brown made it really famous in the Da Vinci Code.
I’ve always enjoyed visiting museums and galleries, but one of my biggest disappointments in the Louvre was the size of the painting of the Mona Lisa, which we, like Laura, found was surrounded by a tightly-packed crowd of tourists. As I remember, Leonardo’s La Giaconda was encased in a thick glass cabinet, making it even more difficult to see. Still, there were many, many other wonderful exhibits to appreciate, as well as the gift shop!
Laura showered and dressed. There were still several hours before she was due to meet Greg, but she was quite keen to have another look around the Louvre, particularly since Greg’s attention span for such places was considerably shorter than her own. She remembered she needed to get a present for Helen; there was sure to be something suitable in the museum shop and if she still had time to spare she could always wander around the nearby gardens.
Laura drifted around the museum. Normally in a place of this size she would be systematic and plan a route around the things she really wanted to see, but today she was too preoccupied with her feelings about Greg and whether she really did want to go with him on this new posting. He’d not really convinced her about the job she’d be doing, although it had to be better than the one she had in Brussels. No one seemed to miss her from it anyway. There had certainly been no problem extending her leave of absence. The decision was really about her relationship with Greg. Yesterday, up on Montmartre, she’d convinced herself that she they had a promising future together,but now he’d gone off to this urgent meeting, and she’d had time to reflect on her own, she wasn’t so sure.
She found herself behind a group of Japanese tourists. Laura smiled to herself. They would be jostling for position to view the Mona Lisa. Laura mingled with the crowd, moving gently through them to the thick glass cabinet which contained the famous portrait.
And so to ever-so-romantic Montmartre, with its galleries, artists and cafés, and probably the most expensive gin and tonic in the world.
In June 1993, budget airline, Easyjet started flying from Liverpool to Paris, and with Liverpool’s John Lennon airport just down the road from where we lived, we decided to treat ourselves to a weekend in Paris. On this particular trip, we decided to enjoy an afternoon drink after visiting the wonderful Salvador Dalí Museum and Gallery. We naïvely selected a pavement café on the edge of the main square above, ordered two G&Ts and discovered the cost was €12 (about $13.50) – pretty pricey now, extortionate then!
We made our drinks last, and it was suppertime before we moved on. I can’t remember where we ate, nor specifically where we finished our evening, but it was in a small, softly-lit bar where a pianist serenaded us, the only customers. He played several songs we recognised, including one of those ‘our tunes’. Some of you might recognise the Tom Robinson version, ‘Yuppie Scum’, but listening to the tune being played on the piano in that Parisian bar that night makes this clip seem far more appropriate for me to share with you.
That concludes our little tour for today, but even though I may never return, my memories of that wonderful city will continue to be a source of inspiration to me, for like Bergman and Bogart, We’ll Always Have Paris.
The Silver Locket (written under pen name Holly Atkins) is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon.
Welcome back to our literary tour through the pages of my novels. Today we’re returning to South Africa where we’re just about to enter a place called Lwandle. It’s not a usual stop on the tourist trail, although it boasts an important little museum – we’ll take a little contextual detour to it in a moment – but as far as our literary tour is concerned, it is here (or in an invented place very like it) that my character, Albertina first steps into the pages of ‘Song of the Sea Goddess‘.
Lwandle is an informal settlement (also known as a ‘location’) about 15 minutes drive from where I stay in Somerset West. It was originally established in the late 1950s to house workers who were brought in from rural areas to work in the farming and fruit canning businesses which had been established in the area. Let’s find out a little more about what conditions were like back then by visiting the Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum which is just around the corner on our left.
With the onset of democracy in South Africa in 1994, the ANC-led government turned the hostels of Lwandle into family-type accommodation. At the same time, with the relaxation of the restriction of movement throughout the country, more people arrived from the rural areas of the Eastern Cape. As a result, the area became increasingly overcrowded.
Even now, although some residents live in brick and block-built buildings, many still live in shacks, awaiting government-approved housing projects to be put in place. Those who are working mainly have jobs in the surrounding towns of Somerset West, Strand and Gordon’s Bay, and the roundabout in the picture above, is the place where I pick up Rayno, my gardener/handyman and Primrose, my housekeeper. Primrose came from the Eastern Cape about 20 years ago, but Rayno was born here, his grandparents and great-grandparents having worked on one of the fruit farms years ago. Although their family homes are modest, they have proper sanitation and the security of an enclosed yard. Other residents live in very humble circumstances, much as I imagined Albertina’s shack – no more than a small timber shed, like you might have at the bottom of your garden. But Albertina, with her proud and positive attitude, decides to up-sticks and seek a new place to stay.
Back in February, I wrote a guest post for da-AL’s ‘Happiness Between Tails‘, in which I talked about why I wanted to ‘uplift’ my characters, some of whom, like Albertina, are based on an amalgam of people I’ve met since I moved to South Africa. I explained how the characters that I’d created deserved something more and better, and that’s why Albertina starts her journey standing by the exit to a service station with a twenty rand note in her hand.
Only a couple of weeks ago, I discovered from da-AL that she’d converted and added that post, ‘Imagining a New Place’ to her growing list of podcasts. Note to self: this really is something I should try. You can listen to Imagining a New Place here, the actual post starts three minutes in.
Now, let’s join Albertina as, fed up with the noise and the dust, and the general mayhem in the ‘location’, she packs up her belongings and makes for the N2 highway to hitch a ride in search that new and better place.
Excerpt from Song of the Sea Goddess
Albertina throws the remains of her coffee onto the dust outside the door and stuffs her little tin mug into the top of the bulging holdall which stands by a similarly stuffed canvas bag next to the open door. As she finishes chewing the crust of bread she’d saved for her breakfast, she adjusts her second best wig and looks around the shack which has been her home for the best part of a year: Time to move on.
Albertina snatches up the two heavy bags containing all her worldly goods and strides out into the early morning. She holds her head up and sticks her nose in the air as she walks past the people busy with their cooking fires and washing bowls. She will not miss them and she will not miss the location, with its noise and dust, and people fighting and drinking long into the night. Her son is settled in a farm school and he has a roof over his head. He’s with people who’ll take better care of him that she can, far away from the temptations of drugs and alcohol, underage sex and communicable diseases which seem to be all that life has to offer for young people here.
Fifteen minutes of steady walking bring Albertina to the edge of the freeway. She is aware of the weight of the bags that she’s carrying, but she’s used to it. Used to carrying all her belongings with her; you can’t leave anything in your shack. The traffic is heavy, and the hot dirty wind from the road tugs at her long skirt. Albertina trudges on as far as the service station where she stops near the exit to the parking area. Here she will get her first lift. She takes out a tightly folded twenty rand note from where is has been tucked inside her clothing, unfolds it and carefully smooths out the creases. She holds it up to each vehicle that passes.
It’s not long before a large blue truck pulls up beside her, its airbrakes hissing loudly. The driver leans over and extends a thick brown arm to open the passenger door for her. Albertina looks up at him. For a moment they scrutinise each other. He looks okay, she thinks, but she’s still wary. She tries to read his face. The driver breaks into a gap-toothed grin and asks her where she’s going.
Albertina shrugs. ‘Just onwards,’ she smiles cautiously.
‘I’m going up the coast,’ he replies.
Albertina nods. One direction is as good as another. The coast sounds nice; fresh. Why not? Something will turn up. She hefts her bags into the foot-well and, gathering up her skirt, climbs nimbly into the cab. The driver indicates the seat belt and reaches over to help her. His hand brushes briefly against her left breast. She looks at him sharply but his attention is already focused on the road as he pulls away.
He eases the heavy vehicle out onto the busy highway, turning the radio up loudly. Albertina is grateful for the music; she doesn’t like to chat to strangers. She looks out of the window watching the sprawl of scruffy buildings give way to a patch of open land, then more buildings, this time huge, bland industrial buildings. She briefly wonders what goes on inside them. The truck driver taps on the steering wheel along with the music, apart from when he jabs at the horn or mutters an obscenity at some other road user. She winces inwardly at the words.
The truck turns off the freeway and onto the West Coast highway. The traffic is calmer and there is only bush and scrub beyond the edge of the tarmac. Albertina gazes out across the open country; the ocean is faintly discernible, a clear azure strip below the wide African sky. She winds down her window a little. The driver turns to her – they haven’t so much as exchanged names – and suggests they stop for a break. He needs to stretch his legs. Albertina nods and leans forward to reach inside the pocket of her holdall.
There is a rest stop a kilometre ahead: three sets of concrete tables with concrete stools surrounding them, set back from the road under a stand of shady trees. There is nobody else there. The driver parks up and jumps out of the cab. He strides round the front of the truck and opens the passenger door for Albertina. Although she is perfectly capable of dismounting by herself, he offers her a hand to help her down. Albertina’s bright pink pumps hit the ground lightly; the driver keeps hold of her hand and pulls her gently sideways, away from the door. Their eyes meet as he takes a step towards her. She takes a step back. He smiles pleasantly. ‘Come now,’ he says, ‘a little something for my trouble.’ He closes in and Albertina is caught between him and the side of the truck.
Quick as a flash, she whips out her little steel knife and holds the point against the side of his neck. The man’s eyes widen. He steps back, holding up his hands up in surprise. It is now Albertina’s turn to advance. She sets her face in a steely glare and, although inside her heart is fluttering with fear, she takes a step forward, knife raised. A long minute passes. A couple of cars go by; a bird shrieks in the tree above them. Then all is quiet.
Loud music breaks the silence heralding the arrival of a bright red sports car. It draws up sharply behind the truck, raising a cloud of dust. The driver looks around. Albertina’s gaze remains fixed on him. Car doors open and the music blares out more loudly. High female voices call out to each other. Paying no attention to the truck or the two people beside it they unload a cooler box from the car and dump it on the nearest table.
The driver holds out his hands, palms upward. ‘Sorry, sorry,’ he says quickly. Albertina glances towards the noisy group of girls. She lowers the knife.
‘I’m getting your bags,’ the man says firmly. Albertina nods. Moments later her bags are on the ground and the truck is starting up. Albertina watches calmly as he drives away. She picks up her bags and goes to sit at the nearest table, looking across at the four long-limbed blonde-headed girls who are sipping from cans of cool drink.
‘Hey!’ One of the girls gets up and walks over to Albertina. ‘Ag, no! Did that guy just leave you here?’ She looks round at her friends and back at Albertina. ‘Shame, man!’ Another girl approaches and asks where she’s going. Albertina gestures vaguely up the road.
‘Lesley,’ the first girl calls out. ‘We can fit another one in the back, hey?’
Albertina now becomes the centre of attention. The skimpily-clad young women gather round, and one of them fetches a cool drink for her; they all mutter darkly about the ‘skelm’ driver. Albertina is a little overwhelmed, but happily accepts the offer of a lift. They can’t take her to where they’re staying, of course, but the nearest town will surely be fine. Albertina nods. It will surely be fine.
And so, after a whirlwind of a drive in the noisy little sports car, with its loud music and louder girls, and the howling wind which forced her to remove her second-best wig, so as not to lose it out of the open window, Albertina finds herself back on foot, carrying her two bulging bags into a busy little coastal town. By late afternoon, she’s found her way down to the harbour. She sets her bags down and stares out across the ocean. She breathes in the sharp, salty air and looks around. She has a good feeling about this place. Something will turn up, she thinks.
It’s my great pleasure to welcome indie author, Tom Burton to this month’s Launch Pad spot. Like me, you may have come across Tom’s vivid creative writing on his blog. I happened upon it a couple years ago, my interest having been grabbed by his episodic story following the adventures of one Sergeant Craig Harper. Since then, Tom’s readers have been treated to many well-crafted stories across many genres.
So, let’s find out a little bit more about Tom. We’ll start with his official author bio:
Tom Burton is a British author with a passion for writing magical, mysterious and historical fiction. He lives with his family in Devon, his writing fuelled by the magic of dark chocolate and Yorkshire Tea.
His short stories have appeared in Spillwords Press, Literally Stories, Dreaming in Fiction, and Whatever Keeps The Lights On.
Before we get to Tom’s latest release, he’d like to share some of his own thoughts on writing, garnered from his own experience as a storyteller. Over to you, Tom!
Tom’s Top Three Guidelines
I know, I know. We’ve all read those wonder lists of the “Top Ten Tips To Write Right!” or whatever. Who on earth am I to give advice? Eww. *retreats under couch hissing like a cat*
So I’ll just call them guidelines, NOT rules. They’re not hard and fast tricks to success – these things never are. What works for me might not work for you.
But they sure helped my writing improve.
1) Entertain One Reader.
That’s it. You and your reader. All it is. Good writing makes your reader laugh and cry. If there’s no emotion? No buy-in to the story. If your book says what you want and how you wanted to present it? Job done. Whether people like it or not is entirely up to them.
Not everyone’s going to love your book. Harsh but true. If you try to write to please EVERYONE, you won’t end up pleasing ANYONE. If your work’s out there, readers who love your style and genre will find you. There’ll be a whole lot of ‘no’s’ along the way. But it only ever takes one ‘yes’.
You’ll get SO MUCH unasked-for advice from readers. Thank them politely. Read it. Shelve it to one side. Move on. They didn’t write your book. You did. Own it. Be proud of that glorious mess you made.
Someone once sent me an actual email cordially advising me to write longer flashfics as they come across more ‘writerly’ (???) and I sent them a reply that just said ‘Chapter One: No’.
”I really liked the idea but thought there should’ve been a twist in the end to make it like a thriller.” Which would’ve been, y’know, GREAT advice … for someone writing a thriller.
2) Immerse your reader.
Use different senses to plunge your reader into a scene: what can the character hear, smell, see? Getting the setting, mood and background senses right make the scene pulse with life and draws in your reader! Smell is often underused, but it really enriches your story. “The stench of a decaying carcass” paints a hugely different picture than “the sweet aroma of jasmine”.
Immersion pulls us right in the thick of the story. We feel like we’re living these stories because the author’s ensured we’re fully captivated. We forget that it’s words on a page that another person has written. We forget that hundreds of other people could be reading the story at that very moment. It’s our story. Just us and the characters and their world.
Immersing your reader is different than just hooking them, it’s keeping them hooked. It keeps them plugging along and (hopefully) conjures some kind of emotional response. (Preferably one that doesn’t involve hate mail.)
Omit dialogue tags (I said/you said/he said/she said) if it’s clear which character is talking. Words like “said,” “asked,” or “wondered,” drag down your story telling. Instead, spice up dialogue with action! Having that back-and-forth punctuated with action makes dialogue flow smoother, so your reader never gets yanked out of the story. For example:
“Get out of my room, you brat!” Evie demanded. Mark glared at her. “Make me!” He retorted.
“Get out of my room, you brat!” Evie tried to shove her brother into the hallway but his heavy bulk ruined her efforts. “Make me!” Mark held his ground.
3) Keep it simple.
Less really is more. The delete key is your friend! Often the best days are when you have fewer words on the page than when you started. Window Prose helps: the kind of writing that’s so simple, clear and minimal that the audience doesn’t even notice they’re reading. They never have to stop to think, so it’s just like gazing through a window at the unfolding action.
Purple Prose uses large, complicated indulgent words to over-describe simple, clear descriptions. It’s flowery, excessive and breaks the flow of the reader’s attention. Don’t slip a ten-dollar word into a ten-cent simple sentence like “scintillating” and “incandescent”. It messes up the flow and makes the reader reach for a dictionary (BIG no no). Don’t drown your reader in unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. Run-on sentences bog readers down with unneeded elaborate detail and distract from the story. For example:
“The branch on the fire burst asunder with a muted pop as the coals underneath heated the gnarled length of wood to the point where a small cache of water that had somehow evaded the sun’s rays for untold decades exploded into steam” GAAAAHHH
“The fire crackled.”
Seduce your reader, don’t burden them. Never use five fancy words when three simple ones will do. Be concise. Don’t fall in love with the gentle trilling of your smooth flowing sentences. Cut out what doesn’t need saying. You don’t want to be writing with a thesaurus in your other hand, choosing unfamiliar fancy words to replace simple, clear, familiar ones. Plain, clean language is the way to go!
Want to enhance a scene? Use precise, punchy nouns and strong vivid verbs that heighten the reader’s sensations, paint strong mental images, and avoid wordy descriptions and overused adjectives.
Tom’s latest book of short stories is Pocketful of Time, a splendidly vivid collection of historical tales. You can read my review here.
Now, over to Tom to tell us a little more about his book and how he came to write it.
Thanks ever so much for hosting me, Chris! It’s such a privilege to be invited to a great outlet for indie authors. Really excited to be here and share my latest book Pocketful of Time on your blog. Also, thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my writer’s thoughts with your readers!
I’ve always loved history from an early age. It’s fascinating to have that unique viewpoint into the living, breathing world of our grandparents and ancestors – that shock of the intimate past that reaches out to jab us in the ribs. Historical fiction’s made such a triumphant comeback recently; Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent, Sebastian Barry’s A Long Long Wayand Ian McGuire’s The North Water are all critically acclaimed for transporting the reader into rich evocative worlds that capture the audience’s imagination.
I also studied history at Uni, which I’m sure helped.
Pocketful of Time grew out of that childhood fascination for history. Being a part of our wonderful WP blogging community for the past several years really gave me the inspiration to help my writing blossom and take the leap to self-publish for others to read via Kindle Direct Publishing.
Short stories were something I was slowly getting better at, so I thought: why not self-publish eight of these together in a collection? So I did. Big advantage of publishing a collection: if the reader doesn’t like one particular story, they’ve got plenty more to choose from.
A world-weary cynic rediscovers his faith. A soldier is haunted by his duty. A prisoner faces her last night on earth . . .
These visceral tales dive into the depths of humanity, exploring the darkest deeps of despair and mortality. Human history is often a grim legacy of bloodshed, misery and despair. Yet still there is hope, the triumph of the human spirit against overwhelming odds and enduring courage in the face of adversity.
Poignant, gruesome, chilling and triumphant, this collection of adult short stories has a little something for every reader.
Fancy diving into William Tyndale’s struggle to publish the first English Bible? Guy Fawkes’ last days in the Tower of London? A lone German citizen’s non-violent resistance to the Nazi regime? Then feel free to check these stories out!
Pocketful of Time is available in paperback and ebook – get it here: Amazon US / UK
Tom’s second historical collection Only Human is due to be published in time for Christmas! Fourteen short stories including:
> the final voyage of Lady Jane Grey > the swashbuckling life of pirate Mary Read > a trapper boy’s childhood down the coal mine > the last arctic mystery of the doomed Franklin Expedition > a suffragette’s fight for the vote in pre-WW1 England.
If you’re a writer with something to say about you new book I’d love to hear from you. All mainstream genres are welcome be it fiction, poetry, memoir or even non-fiction (am I the only person who reads cookery books cover to cover?). I’m particularly keen to support fellow Indie Authors, although by no means exclusively.
Book your ‘First Friday’ spot now, especially if you have a book release lined up in the coming months. Just drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and in response I’ll explain what I’ll need from you and when.