THIS is what inspired my new novel… Guest post by Rebecca Stonehill

 

I’m a huge fan of Rebecca Stonehill’s beautiful writing so when she contacted me to tell me she was releasing a new novel I was super excited. Today I welcome Rebecca onto my blog where she’ll share the inspiration behind her new release, the fabulously titled ‘The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale’. Over to you, Rebecca!

 

The setting often comes first for me: with my first novel, The Poet’s Wife, I was inspired by my time spent in Granada, southern Spain; The Girl and the Sunbird I knew would be my ‘Nairobi’ novel as this is where I live and I wanted to wind back the clock to find out what it was like in its beginnings as a town.

As for my third novel, The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale (to be published 11 November 2017), the setting was again integral, but this time, not because I’d ever been there. As a child, one of my favourite pastimes was to heave down one of the heavy albums from my mother’s bookshelf in her bedroom, filled to bursting with photographs. I loved the photos of past family holidays, and my aunts and uncles when they were younger. But, more than any other, there was an album I returned to again and again.

It was from my mother’s travels from around 1967-1968, a period when she hitchhiked from England down to Greece, worked as an au pair in Athens and then travelled on to a tiny village set in a bay in Southern Crete named Matala, a place she found hard to leave. As a child, I was captivated by these sepia-toned photographs. A handful of scantily clad travellers clustered around a series of sandstone caves they slept in. The odd flag flapped outside a cave opening in the breeze and travellers squint into the camera against the fierce Cretan sunlight above a beautiful, deserted beach.

I desperately wanted to go there but, even more importantly, the seed was planted: one day I would set a story there. I had no idea what form this journey would take, but it didn’t matter; this would come in time.

Matala and those photographs from the late 1960’s have never left me. It is only in the past couple of years though that I’ve had the opportunity to develop and mould the story into what it has become. My protagonist is Jim, a handsome, arrogant but troubled eighteen year old from Twickenham who hitchhikes to Matala in 1967 in search of fun, and to escape his repressed parents. What I didn’t want, though, was for this to be simply a 1960’s coming of age story. I knew very little about what happened in Crete during WW2 but, researching it more, a story of how to link the two periods slowly emerged.

I finally made it to Matala during the late summer of 2016, with my mother as well as her sister and friends who also spent time in the caves. It is now a resort and much has changed from those days of long ago. Tourists pay money to visit the caves where the ‘hippies’ once stayed and, going much further back, where people from the Neolithic period buried their dead. But the spirit of Matala remains: a place of freedom, of gently lapping waves and, if you take the time to sit with a coffee and piece of backlava with one of the locals, of numerous stories.

The one I have chosen to tell follows Jim through Europe down to Matala. At first, it’s the paradise he dreamt it would be. But as things start to go wrong and his very notion of self unravels, the last thing Jim expects is for this journey of hundreds of miles to set in motion a passage of healing which will lead him back to the person he hates most in the world: his father.

Taking in the counter-culture of the 1960’s, the clash of relationships between the WW2 generation and their children, the baby boomers, this is a novel about secrets from the past finally surfacing, the healing of trauma and the power of forgiveness.

I’m looking forward to seeing this book out in the world after brewing for more than thirty years!

In Matala, Crete, September 2016 with my mother, cousin, auntie and their friend who they were in Matala with in the Sixties.

 

 

 The caves in Matala in which travellers once slept in, the inspiration for my novel.

 

That sounds wonderful, Rebecca. Thanks so much for sharing the story behind the story. Wishing you the best of luck. 

 

Rebecca can be contacted through her website, on Twitter, or via Facebook. You can sign up to Rebcca’s mailing list here.

You can buy The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale via Amazon US or Amazon UK. Here’s the blurb: –

A compelling page turner of a buried past resurfacing, set against a backdrop of the 1960’s youth culture and war torn Crete.

1967. Handsome but troubled, Jim is almost 18 and he lives and breathes girls, trad jazz, Eel Pie Island and his best friend, Charles. One night, he hears rumours of a community of young people living in caves in Matala, Crete. Determined to escape his odious, bully of a father and repressed mother, Jim hitchhikes through Europe down to Matala. At first, it’s the paradise he dreamt it would be. But as things start to go wrong and his very notion of self unravels, the last thing Jim expects is for this journey of hundreds of miles to set in motion a passage of healing which will lead him back to the person he hates most in the world: his father.

Taking in the counter-culture of the 1960’s, the clash of relationships between the WW2 generation and their children, the baby boomers, this is a novel about secrets from the past finally surfacing, the healing of trauma and the power of forgiveness.

 

 

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Public speaking tips for writers (putting a bag over your head is not one of them..)

I am a writer. I am an introverted writer. The thought of public speaking makes my skin prickle and my head swim and yet it is something writers are often expected to do, and to be honest, despite the fear, it is something I am eager to do. The chance to meet readers. To talk about my books. A couple of weeks ago, on World Book Day, I gave my first ever talk to 250 primary school children on reading, writing and following your dreams (you can read about that here.) Beforehand I was lucky enough to get some tips from my good friend and fellow author Graeme Cumming who is so adept at public speaking he belongs to a Speakers Club (for fun!!!). Thankfully I got through my own talk without fainting/vomiting/crying/all three and I’m delighted to welcome Graeme onto my blog today to share his wisdom with you. 

Getting up and speaking in public is stimulating. For most people, though, that stimulation isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Over the years, research has shown that, when it comes to fears, public speaking tops most lists. Fear of dying tends to rank about 4th or 5th, which kind of puts things in perspective.

Some time ago, it was pointed out to me that, for pretty much anyone to be successful in their chosen career, at some point they’d have to speak in front of others, otherwise you limit your opportunities.

Up to then, I’d been thinking I could get away with it. In meetings, I didn’t ask questions, I never volunteered to make presentations, and the closest I got to being the centre of attention was if I made an off-colour joke. I realised things needed to change, otherwise I’d still be a low-grade building society clerk when I retired.

Fast forward… well, quite a lot of years, and here I am embarking on a new path with my life, that of author. One book out and two in the pipeline. I’m a writer. But does that mean I no longer have to speak? Not a bit of it. Sure, we have social media to help us connect with our readers and the wider world. But that doesn’t mean to say we don’t need to get up and speak to groups. There are book launches, invitations to speak to peer groups, libraries, book clubs or schools. We may even have to make a presentation to agents or publishers.

A lot of people ask me: what can I do to eliminate the fear? The bad news is that it never really goes away – at least, not in my experience. I first started practicing public speaking nearly 30 years ago, and I’m still nervous if I have a new engagement.

But that doesn’t mean to say I have the same fears I started with. Those have been worn down as a result of practice and experience. Like any activity, the first time you try it, you feel apprehensive – usually because you don’t want to make a fool of yourself. But the more you do it, the easier it gets, and you even begin to look forward to it.

In the absence of having the opportunity to get loads of practice, though, here are some things to remember that’ll help with the nerves:

* Your audience have come along to see you. They’ve made an effort to come out and they’re interested in what you have to say. They’re already on your side

* Since most people put public speaking at or near the top of their worst fears, an audience will have a degree of sympathy and understanding that it’s a nerve-wracking experience. They’ll forgive your mistakes because they’re just glad they’re not doing it.

* You may be about to make your first ever speech, but the audience don’t know that. They also don’t know what goes into giving a speech, so they have very little to judge you on. Pretend you do it every day of the week, and they’ll assume that’s the case.

* If you’re visiting groups who regularly have speakers, they’ll have seen some dire performances. By coming along with something you’ve prepared well for, you’ll already have a head start on a lot of their previous speakers.

That last point about preparation is important. Don’t go into a situation hoping you can wing it. Only a very few people have that ability. So do spend some time preparing what you want to say. You don’t have to be word perfect – though my own preference is to rehearse – but you do want to know in advance what message you want to get across to your audience.

Something else to bear in mind is avoiding the temptation to give excuses in advance for why you’re about to give a rubbish speech. We Brits seem to have apologetic genes, but we should never say sorry for our performance. Most of the time, the audience won’t know the difference. What you consider to be bungling will seem like it’s just part of your style of presentation.

There are techniques you can learn to improve as a public speaker, and if you do face the prospect of having to do it, they can be useful. Even though I’ve been involved in public speaking at one level or another for nearly 30 years, I still like to practice, which is why I joined a Speakers Club. These are safe environments in which to learn and develop, and are usually relatively low cost. Some people will go on training courses for Public Speaking, which are intensive and you learn a lot quickly. But, unless you practice regularly, you can lose the skills just as rapidly.

I hope these tips and comments will help, but if anyone has any questions or would like to learn more, please do contact me via my website and I’ll be happy to assist.

Thanks so much Graeme for taking the time to share your experiences. I’ve found it really useful.

Graeme Cumming is the author of Ravens Gathering, “a dark and creepy piece of horror and mystery writing”. His talk, “How to Become a Bestseller” gives an insight into the modern world of writing and publishing. For fun, he is also currently Education Director at Sheffield Speakers Club. You can read more about Graeme and his work at www.graemecumming.co.uk.

A day in the life of……author Steven Kedie

Writing full time is a luxury many of us dream about and although I fitted writing The Sister around a family and working part-time I’m always in awe of those who hold down a full-time job too.

Today, Steven Kedie, author of Suburb, shares with us how he juggles a career and two children under five  with the burning desire to write.

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Like many people just starting out in this game called Writing, I am not full time. I have a job, a 9-5, that pays the mortgage and nursery fees. Most of my writing is done in short bursts: 500 words before work, editing at lunchtime, plot problems thought through and sorted out on runs I do after the kids are in bed. Every once in a while I get a full day where writing can be the priority, where my focus can be absolute. It’s one of those days I’d like to tell you about.

Wednesday

 I wake up tired. As always. Two kids under five will do that to you. It’s not just the kids today though. Yes, it’s not six o’clock yet and the youngest is crying, so that’s not helping. But they are not the full reason. There’s last week’s family holiday to Centre Parcs that none of us seem to have recovered from, the Stag Do in Leeds on Saturday night – that definitely hasn’t helped, the unexpected (unwelcome), hour long, night feed on Monday. But the main reason it took me ages to get to sleep last night was The Reader feedback.

Every writer has their Reader. That one you go to first with new work and say, What do you think? The one you know will be critical, insightful, brutal. The reader who helps makes you a better writer. Mine is my wife. Last night I gave her a draft of Ben, a short story I’ve been working on. I went out in Manchester to watch an open mic night and she stayed in and read my work. When I got home, feedback was waiting. Not your usual style, too much detail about things that don’t matter, boring. She’d only read four pages. There were some positive bits, but writer brains don’t tend to focus on the positive do they? So, instead of sleeping, I spent some time lay in bed running through every little bit of Ben’s opening.

Which brings me to this morning. I’ve got a full day of writing/ editing planned in. And, following last night’s conversation, more work to do than I thought. So as I get our two boys ready for nursery: encouraging breakfast down them, making sure swimming stuff is ready, putting shoes on, my mind is on Ben. How to fix it, what to change? And somewhere in all the early morning chaos, something clicks.

            What if… I say to my wife.

            Could work better, she says.

And the day ahead becomes less daunting. There’s a plan. Something to work towards.

I drop my wife at the tram station, the kids at nursery. Then home. Kettle on, empty the dishwasher. I eat breakfast in front of the computer. My draft is in front of me, my red pen ready. And I work. Cutting, moving sections, drawing lines through massive chunks of work I thought were important. The feedback from last night has convinced me it’s not. How right she was. I see it all with clear eyes on this read through. Something begins to take shape in these early hours of the working day. Ben no longer seems boring. The early drama of the story has been pushed further towards the start. Two characters’ stories were sitting in different chapters. They now sit side by side in the opening section. I’ve been at it for an hour and a half and I have progress.

Our cleaner arrives (I know, how middle class). I don’t like being in the house when she works. It’s awkward for both of us. So I print off the morning’s work and drive to my favourite local café. There’s something cliché about writing in a coffee shop but, as I don’t get these opportunities for full days of writing very often, I embrace it. The place is very quiet, which is unusual as normally there are kids (including mine) running madly round it. It’s an art café, aimed at families, so it’s to be expected but today it’s nice to enjoy their coffee (which is excellent) and read in peace. I study my work and then begin editing the rest of the story again. I’m more brutal now, killing those darlings with a swift flick of my red pen. Boring sticks in my mind so anything I think hints at that goes.

I go home for lunch. The house is empty and clean. I set up at the dining table again and eat as I work. I know if I stop to watch something on Netflix for half an hour I’m going to lose half an afternoon watching Californication for the third time and feel annoyed at myself later. I work until three: editing, editing, editing. I get up to change the CD every 45 minutes or so but other than that I stare at my words and try to improve them.

At three I put my running kit on and go running down the canal. No music, just the low engine noises of canal barges and the odd tram passing on the other side to soundtrack me. It’s nice, again a luxury, as ordinarily at this time I’m at my normal desk, doing my normal job.

Back at it after showering and hydrating, I work against the clock. Nursery pick up time approaches and I want to finish an edit of the whole story before I go. My leaving time gets put back by ten minutes three times.

And then it’s done. Another round of editing over. Ben and his world are saved, printed, ready for The Reader to cast her eye over and give more feedback. Feedback which again I know will improve it. Feedback I think you have to learn to take.

The whole family returns and the house fills with noise. The table that was my work station becomes a place to eat again, with the boys filling up with a post nursery snack to see them through until bedtime. Toy aeroplanes sit where the computer was, a child’s guitar rests where my notebook has been all day. There’s no sign to point to any of the work I’ve spent the day doing apart from a neat pile of A4 paper, waiting to be read, the top sheet reading: Ben. A Carl Stone Story. Steven Kedie.

 

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Wednesday was fuelled by tea and one massive Latte. It was soundtracked by The Shadow Puppets, Bruce Springsteen and Brian Fallon.

Ben, is the second story from the world of Carl Stone. The first story, Carl Stone’s Girl, is available on Amazon, along with my other work, including my novel: Suburb.

Thanks for reading.  Steven

20501882Thanks so much Steven for sharing. You can find out more and buy Steven’s books here. 

 

A day in the life of…Author Louise Walters

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If you haven’t read Louise Walter’s heartbreakingly beautiful debut, Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase, where have you been?

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The story of Dorothea and Roberta stayed with my long after I’d finished reading. I can’t wait until Louise publishes the gorgeously titled A Life Between Us in February 2017. 

Despite being one of the busiest women I know Louise spared some time to share how she spends her days. I was exhausted just reading it!

 

My days begin either with my 6.30 alarm, or my seven year old coming into my room for his early morning hug – whichever comes first! I get myself and the children ready for the day, and then I drive my eleven year old to school. Home around 9.15 and time to start the day’s work which for me means home educating my seven and six year olds. Some days we go off out for the day, or we go to a home education event, or we meet friends for a play. On those days I get no writing or editing done. If we are having an at home day, we tend to do the “school” work in the mornings, for an hour or two. After that the boys choose their activities and I can sometimes sneak in some writing or editing, or composing blog posts, or catching up with Twitter… whatever I can fit in! It’s back to school in time for 3.15, home around 3.45 then it’s making tomorrow’s packed lunch(es), sorting out the evening meal, getting the laundry in…

If I am on any kind of deadline, or just keen to get some work done, I will start my writing or editing straight after tea, so usually between 6 and 7pm, and my husband takes over with the boys and gets them bathed and to bed. I manage a couple of hours before my concentration wanes. Then I have to stop. I work at weekends too sometimes, usually on Sundays.

It can be hard to find the writing time, which is one of the reasons I decided to give myself a year to bring out my second novel. Writing is time consuming and my time is in short supply. But I know how quickly children grow and my time will come back to me, bit by bit. I actually worry that having too many hours on my hands will be counter-productive, as I am so used to making the most of any time I have and not procrastinating! Even a ten minute stint is useful and can result in maybe 200-300 words. The truth is I will always write, and always find the time to write, no matter what else goes on in life.

 

Thanks so much Louise.

You can follow Louise on Twitter here.

Or read her fabulous blog here.

Share your world 2015 – Week 50

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Favourite thing to photograph? Write? Or Cook?

I love to write fiction. I write non-fiction for work and writing is always a pleasure but nothing tops creating a character you root for, laugh with and weep over.

Photograph – my kids. They’ve grown so quickly.

Cook – I like to experiment. I get bored of eating the same things. And cakes. Don’t forget the cakes.

Did you like swinging as a child? Do you still get excited when you see a swing? 

Yes! We had a swing in our garden, along with a see-saw, and I remember fighting with my sister over whose turn it was. (She won, she’s bigger). One of my favourite photos is me sitting on the swing while she stands behind me. We look so harmonious but I bet it didn’t last long. My cousin had a tyre swing in her garden which I loved, although I often fell off. If I see a swing now I can’t resist.

What has surprised you about blogging?

So many things. I started a blog 18 months ago with no idea what to write, if I could write. I’ve fallen in love with the blogging community – it’s so supportive. My writing has improved week by week thanks to all the helpful feedback I’ve received. I’m in the process of researching agents and publishers, looking for a good home for my recently finished first novel and have started writing my second.  I’m also self-publishing two flash fiction books next year. I don’t think I’d have got this far without you guys.

List at least five favorite desserts.

So tough. When I go out to dinner I always check out the dessert options first. Usually my lovely husband orders one he knows I’ll like so I have two!

  1. Eaton Mess
  2. Profiteroles
  3. Key Lime Pie
  4. Apple crumble and custard
  5. Trifle
  6. Hot chocolate fudge cake & vanilla ice cream.

Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

I’m so grateful a friend is beta reading my manuscript again after I’ve added in a new subplot – I’ve got to the stage I can’t read it anymore!

I’m looking forward to some quality time with my family over Christmas.

 

Share your world – courtesy of Cee’s Photography. Answer the questions to join in.