My Monday Guest, Jenny Blackhurst, author of debut novel “How I Lost You”- an amazing psychological thriller

Today, I’m absolutely delighted to welcome the lovely Jenny Blackhurst to my blog. Jen and I met a couple of years ago on the peer review site YouWriteOn and it has been a real joy to follow her progress ever since. I was thrilled for her when she was signed to an agent and even more so when Headline published her debut novel.

Jen has a Masters degree in Psychology and, when she isn’t writing, she works as the Fire Safety Systems Administrator for Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service.  

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It’s fab to host you here today, Jen. Are you a morning person, or a midnight candle burner?

I’d love to have a choice! I have a one year old and a four year old so unfortunately sleep is a distant memory for me, but if I had the choice I would be a midnight candle burner – it reminds me of my student days where assignments were started at 5pm the night before they were due.

Ha! Tell me something you would like your readers to know about you.

I’m a massive nerd and very proud of it. I love spreadsheets and formulas, new notebooks and organisation apps and above all…Doctor Who.

Yay! Another “nerdy and proud of it” person. If you could morph into any creature what would it be?

A cat. I don’t particularly like cats (!) but they undoubtedly have the best lives. And they are cleverer than they make out. It’s not that they can’t be trained to sit – they just refuse to bow to mere humans.

I’m a complete cat slave, and mine purrs me to sleep at night. At bedtime, do you like “relaxing so you can sleep sounds” or do you prefer white noise, TV, soft music, ocean waves, forest or meadow sounds, babbling brook, or something else?

Right now I could sleep at the side of the motorway! When I was a student and my head was too full of exam anxiety to sleep I’d listen to Harry Potter, narrated by Stephen Fry. His voice is so hypnotic it would chill me out enough to sleep in no time.

I remember those days. What kind of music do you listen to, Jen? Do you have an all-time favourite song?

I have quite eclectic tastes when it comes to music – my iPod will skip between Miley Cyrus and Jessie J, Paramore, Wiz Khalifa, L’il Wayne and then back to Jess Glynne. With some added Junglebook and Chu Chu Ua thrown in. I don’t have one favourite but certain songs remind me of certain moments in my life – Lonestar, Amazed and Stevie Wonder I just called to say I love you, as well as Bryan Adams Everything I do and anything from Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill album.

Great choice. Now let’s move on to your books. When did you start writing?

When I was about 11 – it was a teenage series to rival Sweet Valley High! I started it with a friend and I think we had some good ideas but I never managed to get past a few chapters.

Where do you get your ideas from?

Anything that happens around me. It always starts with a ‘What if?’ and I’m constantly listening in on people’s conversations (sorry work colleagues) and watching the news. Inspiration is everywhere.

What do you think is the hardest part of writing a book?

All of it! I think you get to a certain stage where you’re convinced it’s awful but it’s too late to turn back and you just have to tell yourself this happens to everyone – just finish the damn book and sort it out in round two.

What is your favourite part?

I love the planning stage, that’s the bit before the self-doubt creeps in and you are convinced that this is THE idea of a lifetime. You can go crazy with spreadsheets and mind maps (I did say I was a nerd) and you create people and worlds and you know you have a bestseller on your hands. Then you sit down to write and your carriage is a pumpkin and your butler is a mouse.

Ha! Tell me, what is your least favourite part of the process?

About 30,000 words in. Before that the blank page is full of opportunity, after that barrier the end is in sight but around 30 – 40,000 words is horrid. I don’t mind edits as much as some people I know but finding time to get the words onto the page in the first place is tough at the moment.

It must be with a baby to look after. Would you ever consider a joint project?

Yes, I’d love to! I’m not sure how good I’d be at it, I can’t understand how joint writers aren’t constantly changing the other one’s work but I love the idea of writing being a less lonely business and having someone to hammer around ideas with when you’ve got a niggly plot point. Mark and Louise (Edwards and Voss) manage it so well I’d be very tempted after seeing their work.

How do you handle a writer’s block?

I get out my trusty paper and pen. Writing longhand for me is a wonderful cure for when the words are clogged. It’s like I’m taking away the barrier between me and the words, my fingers are so much closer to my work and the words flow out of the pen onto the paper so quickly that it’s impossible to feel blocked.

Great! Are you a sit down and play it by ear kind of writer, or do you need a structured guideline, or maybe a little of both?

With my first novel I completely pantsed it. No outline, just me and a computer. It took so much editing and tweaking, went through about thirty drafts before I submitted it, and was a lot of work. This time I have an outline which I have deviated from but I try and revisit it every 10k or so the work out where the story is going. It’s not fool-proof, there are still plot twists that surprise and delight me but I have more of a sense of structure and hopefully there will be less work at the editing stage.

What are you working on now? Would you like to share anything about it?

My next novel is another psychological thriller called Before I Let You In. That’s all you’re getting for now!

Hahaha! How can readers find you, Jen? Do you have a Facebook  page or any buy links?

I certainly do:

Facebook Page

And you can buy my debut How I Lost You here.

I’m also on Twitter as @JennyBlackhurst and I love to talk books so come tweet me!

Fab. It’s been a joy to chat with you today, Jen. I wish you every success with your next novel. I loved How I Lost You and can’t wait.

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Thanks for having me, Siobhan. 

My Monday guest – Anthony Hogger.

Today, I’m absolutely delighted to welcome Anthony Hogger to my blog. Tony, as I like to think of him, and I met a couple of years ago on the writers’ review site YouWriteOn. Since then, we’ve been in touch on Facebook. Over to you, Tony!

Tony Hogger

Me: I’m 57, Married to Jan. I was born in the East-End of London and now live in a thatched cottage, in a small village, near Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire.

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How I write: I have my own office in the garden, so the views of the surrounding countryside are nice when I look up with a head full of nothing. I use an Apple iMac with MSWord. I don’t tend to storyboard, as many writers do. I suppose that is why I am more suited to writing about people and subjects based in fact. The plot is already there, I just have to put a different slant on it.

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Why I write: From an early age I enjoyed history, so I guess that’s where my inspiration to write about historical figures real and imagined came from. Although I received no formal education – I left school at 15 with not so much as an O-Level – I always loved writing essays and making up stories. An irony I always reflect upon is: I began my first year at secondary school in what was then 1.1 (1.1 being first year first class. 1.5 being first year bottom of the pile, so to speak). Within six weeks, I found myself demoted to 1.3 because my English grammar, punctuation etc. was so poor. It’s still not that great now, but I manage to wing it these days. I spent the first year languishing in a class I was clearly over qualified for and determined to improve – not least for the fact that my arm ached from constantly being raised. The second year I began in 2.1, so some pride, at least, was restored. Unfortunately, at the start of my fourth year the education system decided, in its infinite wisdom, to dispense with the ranking by intelligence and ability structure altogether. So, pupils who started life in 1.1, 2.1, 3.1 etc. were taught alongside pupils from 1.5 and so on. The decision was a disaster on so many levels as I’m sure you can imagine. I made friends with some particularly disruptive young people and my education took a nosedive from there on, a fact of which I am not particularly proud. In fact, it is a decision I shall always regret.

My book: Warrier King Legacy is about Vercingetorix, the man who united the Gauls to rise up against Rome and take on the legions of Julius Caesar.

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My Inspiration: I didn’t need a great deal of persuading to want to base my first novel around the life of Vercingetorix. But, I suppose it originally stemmed from a character that Conn Iggulden touched on in a book from his Conqueror series. I have always had a penchant for the underdog and Vercingetorix’ is a fascinating story. It led me to read everything I could about the man, including Caesar’s de Bello Gallico, and to travel to the region from which Getorix – as I have dubbed him – is thought to have lived. The trip also took me to Alise-Sainte-Reine where the battle of Alesia is said to have taken place.

Photos, Statue de Vercingétorix, statue, Vercingétorix, vercingétorix, Eté

Photos, Statue de Vercingétorix, statue, Vercingétorix, vercingétorix, Eté

My current WIP: That’s a good one. I’m flitting between three different projects, at this moment in time, all completely diverse from one another:

The first is 95,000 words, set during the Napoleonic conflict, about a young woman’s quest to find her soldier father. The first draft has been finished for ages, but it needs a lot of work and I can’t decide whether to pursue it or not.

The second is set in London during the 70’ and 80’s. It’s a gangster yarn of 40,000 words, so far, but again, I can’t decide where to go with it.

The third is very interesting and probably more my sort of thing. The characters are fact based and that seems to be what most floats my particular boat. It is based on the true story of a group of Australian nurses, during WWII, who were gunned down by Japanese soldiers on a remote beach in the Far East. Despite being shot, one of them survives and spends the rest of the war in a prison camp. It is taking an immense amount of research, I’m a stickler for accuracy, but I guess that’s what makes my writing more interesting and exciting for me; finding out something new about a character every day and using my skills as a writer to make them live again. As I write this, I am becoming excited at the prospect of reading more about the event and putting my own stamp on it.

How am I finding the indie experience: Expensive and tedious, if I’m honest. I think I will attempt the traditional route in the future. I may never be a traditionally published author, who knows, but you have to be a marketing genius with time and money to burn to do it the indie way. Yes, there are many success stories for indie authors, but when you compare them to the amount of great writers, with great books, floundering in a sea of strategy and marketing nous, they are as rare as lottery winners – and, some of them, just as lucky. I’m currently in the process of giving away more copies of WKL, but you can’t even do that for free, certainly not if you want to make enough people aware of the giveaway. Simply telling friends on social media and punting to a few “totally” free sites is not enough. You have to pay the ones with bigger memberships and some, such as bookbub, want extortionate fees just to give your hard work away. Whinge over.

Inspirational place: I suppose that honour has to go to Rome. Both ancient and modern day, I love the place. Its history is overwhelming. I love nothing more than walking around the Coliseum touching its ancient walls and feeling its history. The wine’s good too.

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Wow, Tony! It’s been great to introduce you to my readers and get to know you better. I read the start of Warrior King Legacy on YouWriteOn and I’ve got it on my Kindle. Looks fascinating. I wish you every success with it and with your writing projects. Readers, you can connect with Tony on Twitter @tonyhogger.

 

Monday Interview with Jan Ruth

Today I’m so happy to welcome Jan Ruth to Douglas Bland Artists’s studio in Italy. Jan and I got to know each other online a couple of months ago when we found out we shared the same editor, John Hudspith. We have a passion for the Welsh countryside in common, too, as well as a love of horses (and a certain mad obsessiveness about our writing).

Jan RuthI couldn’t wait to read Jan’s work and, when I did, I wasn’t disappointed. Here’s the review I wrote for her novel Midnight Sky.

“When I read the blurb for “Midnight Sky” and saw that the hero is a horse-whisperer, I just had to read it. The first word that springs to mind now I’ve finished it is, “Wow!” I absolutely loved it. Fell in love with James Morgan-Jones and really wanted him and Laura to get together. Won’t give any spoilers, though. For me, the best thing about losing myself in a romance is the ‘Will he? Won’t she?’ element, which Jan Ruth exploits beautifully. There’s a whole host of realistic characters in this novel, all of them interesting, and the story line is so compelling I couldn’t stop reading. I used to live in Wales, and it was great to be transported back there. I’m delighted to have found this author and will definitely be reading more of her books.”

Midnight Sky Cover FULL WEBSo glad you can join me in an aperitivo, my lovely. What can I offer you?

I was wondering when you’d ask! I’m a plain Jane when it comes to drinkies so it’s a straight Sauvignon for me, or a cheeky Chardonnay. None of those watered-down spritzers! (I can force down gin and tonic too, although I always think of this as a long summer drink).

Ooh, let’s have some Chardonnay. (Pours two glasses). Cheers!

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You’ve recently published Home for Christmas, an emotive trio of stories with festive themes from the Welsh Mountains of Snowdonia.

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Please tell us all about what looks like a fab read!

It was great fun to write, despite me starting these in July with the sun beating down. The brief to myself was 3 very different stories. I think they turned out pretty well. Here’s a short description:

Rudolph the Brown-Nosed Reindeer

Rick isn’t looking forward to his lonely corporate Christmas, but it’s the season of goodwill and magic is in the air. An off-beat love story. It’s time Rick wore his heart on his sleeve, or is it too late? Lessons in love from an unlikely source.

Jim’s Christmas Carol

Santa and Satan pay a visit. One brings presents, the other an unwelcome presence. Paranormal reality. Jim’s played with fire it’s time he got his comeuppance, but from who?

Home for Christmas

Deck the halls with boughs of holly. Fa la-la la-la, la-la la-la. Tis the Season to be jolly… Romantic-comedy. Pip might accidentally find her true vocation, but the folly of her fibs are about to catch up with her.

I’m looking forward to snuggling up by the fire with your lovely stories, a glass of mulled wine, and some mince pies (which I’ll have to make myself as we can’t buy them in Italy). Jan, you must be one of the most prolific authors I’ve chatted with here.

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Please can you tell us about the inspiration behind your books, what keeps you writing, and something about your path to publication. Before you start, let me top up your glass and offer you a slice of pizza.

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Thanks! I think inspiration comes from having something to say, a need to share an experience; and then of course for me, the Welsh landscape plays a huge part in my musings. When we moved here some 17 years ago, it kick-started my writing. You could say it was dormant, in a musty box under the bed. Inside the box was a book I’d written called Summer in October. I even managed to ensnare an agent with it but she couldn’t get financial backing for her new business and it all fell apart. Next came Wild Water and I was lucky again to be agented, this time to Jane Judd, but to cut a long story short – it came to nothing, since my style was – and still is – very much between genre. Now of course, all of these restrictions have been blown wide open with the advent of self-publishing and over the last 17 years I’ve written 5 novels and 3 sets of short stories; not as prolific as some, but there was a long 10 year gap where I did none. Also, I only write when I’m inspired to do so. Summer in October was re-written and became Midnight Sky. I only started self-publishing my titles 4 years ago but I guess I’ve only really got to grips with my brand and who I am over the previous 2 years. It’s been a steep learning curve but I can’t say I’ve enjoyed every step of the way… in fact, I was on the point of stopping altogether when I met John Hudspith and Jane Dixon-Smith. Editing and cover design is so important and a totally different skill to writing, but the books finally got the professional boost they needed. This isn’t to say I’m entirely happy being self published, there is much I don’t like about the process and although I am grateful to have had the opportunity via kindle, I am also pleased to say that Silver Rain is now signed to Accent Press and will be re-published next spring.

Fascinating! And congratulations on your publishing contract! Briefly, can you describe your writing process? I mean, are you a plotter or do you write by the seat of your pants? Is there a daily word-count that you aim for when you are writing? Do you revise as you go along, or do you plough on with a first draft then go back and self-edit?

Oh, I never plan anything. I have a well formed idea in terms of plot, but after that I rely on character and circumstance. I think over-planning takes all the spontaneity out of the process and if its dull for the writer, its more often than not, dull for the reader. Having said that, I do cut and paste scenes here there and everywhere to make something work. Also, as one becomes more experienced I do think instinct kicks in. I’ve brought in characters and small scenes with no sense of purpose at the time, but then when it all clicks together towards chapter 15… I love that feeling! It’s like my muse is saying ‘I told you so. There was a reason the man with the wooden leg popped up in chapter 3.

Ha! That’s Interesting, and I think you’re spot-on about spontaneity. We can’t sit here chatting without mentioning our inspiring editor, John Hudspith. You’ve coined a new word, “Johnnyometer”. Love it! Please explain to my readers what that means.

For me, it means he reads the final manuscript and gives it a thorough proofread and a line edit. He’s also checking that I haven’t got the guy with the wooden leg running for a bus in chapter 4. When I first started writing novel-length books I endured dozens of re-writes; but the discipline of that was necessary to learn and understand the craft of how to structure a novel, build character, show not tell. I’ve got a good handle on the basics now but no matter how experienced you think you may be, another pair of experienced eyes is vital. This is where the Johnnyometer comes in.

Fab! We have a love of horses in common and I’m green with envy when I see the wonderful pics you post on Facebook of some of your rides.

10006080_744474255636887_7058848615728028062_oWales is such a beautiful part of the UK and you’ve said it has influenced your work hugely. Many of my followers won’t know much about Cymru and I hope they will pick up your novels to get a flavour of God’s own country. In a few sentences, can you tell us about Snowdonia and how it inspires your writing?

Snowdonia is rugged, mountainous and as beautiful as it is dangerous. I love the hills and the constant change of season here, it never fails to inspire. There’s a rich sense of history too, with castles, druids circles and standing stones; derelict farmsteads, slate mines and of course, the sea. I use the landscape almost as a character in its own right. I use it to set mood too. I never noticed this until an editor at Cornerstones Literary Agency told me I needed to expand on that. With regard to the horses, I’ve been around them all my life so its natural they should feature, plus I’m lucky to have the wild Carneddau ponies on my mountain doorstep. (Some stunning images of the ponies and a feature about them on my blog).

Great! I’ll provide a link to your blog at the end of our chat. What’s on the cards next in your writing career?

I’m thinking about a sequel for Midnight Sky, which is tentatively titled Palomino Sky.

Wonderful! I loved that story and will definitely read the sequel. Oh, I can see your glass is empty. Let me refill it. More pizza?

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Yes, and yes please. Thank you for having me!

I wish you every success in achieving your dreams, my lovely. It’s been great chatting with you and sharing an aperitivo. Thanks again for joining me. Before you go, please can you leave readers with three facts that might surprise them about you?

I’m not Welsh. I do my best writing in a pair of horrible pyjamas. I’m still a tomboy at age 57. (Actually, I doubt anyone is terribly surprised by that .)

(Laughs) Readers, if you would like to know more about Jan and her books, you can visit her website http://janruth.com/ follow her on Twitter @JanRuthAuthor and connect with her on Facebook.

Monday Interview with Tina K Burton

I’m starting a new venture in my blog, where I’ll invite a fellow writer for an aperitivo and a chat. My first guest is the lovely and talented Tina K Burton. She’s a short story, article, and novel writer, and a quilling artist, which is the technique of making designs and pictures from rolled up strips of paper.

Tina’s first novel, Chapters of Life, is available in paperback and e-book, and has received a wealth of rave reviews on Amazon. When she’s not writing or quilling, Tina likes reading, running, cooking, and going for walks across the beautiful moorland where she lives in Devon, UK.

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Welcome, Tina, and what can I offer you? A glass of prosecco? A spritzer? A bellini? Or perhaps some Pinot Grigio or Valpolicalla (as we’re in Italy)?

Ooh, I’d love a spritzer, please 🙂

I’ll have one too. Nice and refreshing on a warm summer’s day.

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Okay, make yourself comfortable, Tina. We’ve known each other just over a year now since we met on Twitter. Thanks for agreeing to the interview. I’d like to start by asking, ‘What made you decide to become a writer?’

Well, I’ve always had a good imagination – I was constantly berated at school for staring out of the window rather than concentrating on my lessons – but the stories I made up in my head were infinitely more interesting than real life. Then, when I had my daughter, I made up stories for her. Once she was older and I went back to work, I had lots of ideas for articles and short stories, and started writing more seriously.

So you started making up stories when you were a child. Which authors inspired you at that time?

This is going to sound so twee, but my favourite author then was Enid Blyton. I couldn’t get enough of her books, and read almost every one. I still have some of my originals.

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We studied various authors at school and, apart from the obvious, one of my other favourites was Thomas Hardy.

I, too, loved Enid Blyton and Thomas Hardy when I was younger. What books do you enjoy reading today?

I read a variety of genres. I can’t be doing with books that are too descriptive, though. I don’t care what the surroundings are like. I want to get on with the story. I read books by Erica James, Debbie Macomber, Simon Kernick – a brilliant London-based author, his books are edge of your seat stuff – John Connolly, Daphne Du Maurier, M C Beaton. I’ll read anything that looks interesting.

You’re like me then. We both have eclectic tastes. What was the inspiration behind your debut novel, Chapters of Life?

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We lived in Sussex. I was in our local bookshop, wishing they had a cafe so I could sit with a cup of tea and a book. Suddenly this whole bookshop appeared in my mind, and the characters started to evolve around it. In a matter of days, I had the whole story in my head and just had to write it down.

Sounds wonderful. I’ve downloaded it onto my Kindle and will read it as soon as possible. You’ve just completed a second novel, The Love Shack. Please tell us about it!

Ah, it’s a humorous contemporary romance, set around a dating agency. The main character is Daisy Dorson, a rather sweet, but naive girl who’s only aim in life is to be happy and find a man she adores. We meet a selection of quirky characters who sign on looking for love, and there’s plenty of emotion and drama.

Sounds just my cuppa. What genre of romance would you say you write in, and have you thought about trying any other genres, either of romance or something else?

For my novels, I mainly write women’s fiction, but my short stories are a variety of genres, from tales with a twist to horror, crime, romance, flash fiction and adult fairy-tales. I’m always open to trying different genres, both in reading and in writing. I think it’s good to stretch yourself and try new things – it helps us become better writers.

Indeed, Tina. I know you are signed by a publisher for Chapters of Life, but would you ever consider self-publishing?

Yes, I would. There are pros and cons to both in my opinion. Whilst I feel there’s some kudos to having a publisher, I like the idea of being in control of my own book – and getting the majority of the profit. But, you have to know what you’re doing, or pay someone else who knows what to do.

Being in control and getting the majority of the profit is certainly a plus, I agree. What has been your greatest writing challenge and how have you overcome it, if you have?

I’m not a disciplined writer and I still haven’t overcome this problem. How I envy those writers who can sit at their desk at 9 am and work until 5 pm every day. I have to be in the right frame of mind to write, so I make the most of it when I am as I know it may be short lived. When I’m “in the zone”, I’ll start writing at 8 am, and still be there at 6 pm, having skipped lunch. I need to get the words down whilst they are flowing. I’ll work like this for a week or two, but then I can go for a month without writing another word. It’s very frustrating.

Well, we all have different ways of “getting the words down”. You’ve got two novels under your belt, and have had several short stories published, so obviously your method works for you. What are your plans, hopes, dreams and aspirations for the next state in your writing career?

I’d love to see my novels in bookshops, that would be wonderful, and after that, I’d really like to write for television. Gritty serial dramas, that sort of thing. But that’s a whole new ball game!

I wish you every success, Tina. It’s been great chatting with you. Thanks for dropping by! Before you go, please can you leave readers with three facts that may surprise them about you?

Hmm, okay. I smacked a camel on the nose because it spat on me. I married my next door neighbour, and, once, I spent my lunchtime watching a cremation.

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Ha, ha, ha! I’m dying to know more. Good thing I’m following your blog. Readers, if you’d like to know more about Tina, you can find her on Facebook, where she also has her own quilling page – Quillina – Twitter, and Pinterest. Details are on her website here.