Home » Author Interviews
Category Archives: Author Interviews
Lucinda E Clarke has written several volumes of memoir but is best known for her series of novels featuring a young woman, Amie, and her adventures in Africa. When I talked to her in February 2018 she had just published the fourth Amie volume which featured the tribal practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). We talked about that, the clash of cultures between what we in the West call civilisation and African traditions, and “fake news”. You can read that interview here.
I’m pleased to say that there is a new Amie adventure due for release in a few weeks and available to pre-order now. But, before we talked about that, and her two “Readers’ Favorite” awards, I had to mention the fact that FGM is topical again with the recent conviction, in Britain, of a woman who arranged to have this brutal injury inflicted on her 3 year old daughter. I asked Lucinda if she was pleased to see the law finally catching up with the perpetrators of these crimes.
” I published book 4 in my Africa series, Amie Cut for Life, in October 2017 and this time last year – around the Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM – managed to worm my way onto US TV and radio with features in several print media. I was keen to raise awareness of this cruel practice and several people emailed me to say this was the first they had ever heard of it. I realised I was taking a bit of a chance in writing about such a sensitive topic as female circumcision and maybe some readers hesitated before downloading it. However, I was thrilled to read that there has been one successful prosecution in the UK for a mother who mutilated her daughter and this may be a warning to other parents. Female Genital Mutilation is illegal in many countries but it has not stopped this cruel custom. The problem is changing mindsets and that is going to take many more generations.”
Lucinda, who admits her own guilt in helping spread government propaganda whilst working in Africa, is still angry at the way news is handled by the media, likening it to “grooming”.
” I’m an expert in this field even if I say so myself. Propaganda was my bread and butter for years! For me, this makes listening and watching media programmes, especially the news, cringemaking.
It’s what is NOT said that is important. I am also horrified when I see examples of the bullying by the interviewers on the television. No wonder youngsters learn how to bully. The questioners are just so desperate to browbeat their victims, trying to get them to trip up, contradict themselves and, best of all, grovel and beg for forgiveness. We are well into the blame game. I don’t believe anything I hear any more, “they” tell us what “they” want us to know and believe.
I despair at the loss of free speech – the world’s public is being groomed and silenced just as surely as those predators groom vulnerable young girls over social media.“
When Lucinda talks about those awards its impossible not to see how proud she is to have received them, although she remains realistic about their value.
” I was thrilled to win a gold medal for Amie and the Child of Africa and a silver for Amie Stolen Future at the Readers’ Favorite Awards last November.
I adore America and it was an amazing excuse to visit again. The event, held in Miami, lasts two days and is a real buzz. Just to mingle and talk books, books and books with a wide variety of other authors is uplifting – we are not alone! While most days we sit in solitary silence, it’s such fun to crawl out of our writing caves and mingle with like-minded people. There is the ‘meet and greet’ with interesting talks from leaders in the industry, publishing, marketing and promoting. Then it’s a trip to the Miami Book Fair with street after street of tents all book orientated, and more people to discover and network with. The Saturday night is the awards ceremony itself and probably the only time I will wear two clanking medals around my neck. (Well I’d look silly wearing them in the supermarket, wouldn’t I?)
However nice the medals were, the biggest thing for me was Headline Books picked ten winners to consider for publication. In the end they didn’t take Amie, but it was enough for me to be on their short list. I wasn’t surprised they said no, as I’m not writing in a popular genre right now, and I guess they agreed with that. They did say they could see why the book had won.
Winning awards are a fabulous band aid on those down days when you’ve not made a sale for hours and hours. Did they increase sales for me? Only minimally. The way to make huge sales is to be very visible and remain visible. You get the word out for a while but it dies down.
Are the contests a con? It’s true you pay to enter and I will never again enter the one that wanted me to pay a second time to obtain the virtual medal seal – now that was going too far.
I enter a couple a year and I have been very lucky but never the ones that ask for votes – I don’t have that many friends (sad isn’t it?) I do prefer not to know who the judges are so I am not tempted to stalk them or camp out in their front gardens.”
The latest Amie book?
Amie Savage Safari is already on pre-order and priced @ $/£1.99 until launch day February 26th when it increases to $/£ 1,3453.99 – oh, OK I’ll make it $/£3.99 then as it’s really worth it.
The theme is government corruption as diplomats from several different countries gather at a safari camp in the bush to bid for the right to mine the minerals found in Togodo – my mythical African country. Naturally, things don’t go to plan and Amie gets caught in the middle. The father of her unborn child was summoned to London and she has lost contact with him. I’ve been told that it’s as fast moving and page turning as the earlier novels and I hope my readers will enjoy it.
Lucinda has a website and blog. If you are not already a follower I urge you to take a look. It is entertaining and informative, everything a good blog should be.
My guest this week is James Roby. Born in Detroit, James is a veteran of the USAF and served in many locations across the USA from Florida to Alaska, and traveled beyond America’s shores, too. Now he’s back in Detroit, a city that he loves and that is the setting for a series of novels featuring a team of investigators he calls the Urban Knights. We began by discussing his love for the city of his birth.
“ Thanks Frank for giving me the opportunity to spread the word about the UrbanKnights novel series. Well, Detroit IS home. I feel Detroit had a, pardon the pun, driving force in my early development. Good or ill, it’s made me who I am today. We’re all the product of our environment, of the things we’ve seen and done. Detroit for me, is a big part of that. Traveling the country, I encountered a lot of negative feelings about Detroit – a lot of it off base. I tried to be a representative of my hometown and help disperse some of the rumor and flat out lies about her. That’s why so many of my characters are based on real people I grew up with. Not everyone in the city is someone’s ‘baby momma’ or an ex-con. Some of them went to college, raised a family…the same things people everywhere do. That’s Detroit to me.”
Detroit is famous internationally as the USA’s “Motor Town” and fast cars feature in the UrbanKnights novels. I wondered what James drives himself.
“ I’m a Mustang man myself. Blame Steve McQueen in Bullitt. I’m on my third one and my next car will probably be another ‘Stang. I had a Chrysler and a Saturn in there too, but I’m a diehard Mustang fan.”
The American motor industry has suffered many set backs in recent years but James believes its future holds promise.
“ I don’t think it’s dead, by any means. I still see a lot of domestics around…and some of them are electric and hybrid. I hope this technology grows and becomes more widespread, if for no other reason, than to provide the market a choice.”
Detroit, too, has suffered – from a loss of population and some recent political scandals. At the same time the ratio of Black to White residents has reversed, suggesting the exodus was mostly of White people. That is something that inevitably features in James’s novels.
“In a lot of ways, Detroit is a microcosm of America in terms of race. You can see it clearly at the Detroit – Grosse Pointe border, one of the city’s more affluent suburbs. It’s like someone hit a switch. It’s a burden that has impacted the city and by extension, the country. Race and racism is like a big heavy weight around the leg of someone trying to run a race. Bad part is, no one but us is making us wear it. I lived through a lot of those changes, and it breaks my heart. There is, I feel, enough blame to go around.
With race so ingrained in the recent history of Detroit, it’s hard, if not impractical, to write fiction there and not at least touch on it. In the UrbanKnights, sometimes it’s subtle like a conversation. In Pale Horse, the main character, Jordan Noble and an old military buddy discuss why there are so few resources in Detroit to aid in their mission. Sins of the Father and my newest novel, Favorite Son, tackle gentrification, which in part, is driven by race.”
James went on to reveal a little more about this latest work.
“ A new casino is just opening in Detroit and instead of enjoying the grand opening, tragedy strikes. The owner is murdered in his office by persons unknown. The UrbanKnights are on the case and they quickly discover murder is only the beginning and this case will put them in conflict with powers far beyond Detroit’s borders.”
James’s stories are driven far more by characters and their motivations than by a preconceived plot.
“ I heard Dan Brown recently say the ‘story’ has been done. Basically, there’s nothing new under the sun. It’s up to the writer to make it interesting. I mean, whether it’s the latest action thriller or a historical drama, the setting may change but the elements are the same: Characters, conflicts, resolutions, etc. So, I feel character and motivations are the primary elements. You want to go on the ride with someone you like and are interested in. I often have an idea, not necessarily a plot, and the first question is, What would the UrbansKnights do? I would hope that’s what would make readers come back too.”
James writes early mornings and at weekends
“ I get up an hour earlier during the week for that quiet time to work on my books. I usually do catch up on the weekend.”
His stories are backed by lots of research.
“ I’m definitely a ‘pantser’. I get an idea and run with it. For example, I was walking down the street after seeing something on the news and the idea struck me – what if there was a terrorist attack in Detroit? What would [my leading character] Jordan Noble do, given his history in counter-terrorism? I just went from there. During the writing, after the thrill of a new idea wore I started asking questions: Why would a terrorist attack Detroit? How would that impact on the large Middle Eastern population in and around the city? Then there was the question of what agents of government would respond? What equipment would they use? You get the idea. So yeah, I have to research. A lot. I love Google. There is a ton of information out there. I also have some personal resources – people I met in the service, Police officers back home, that sort of thing.
It’s almost like an onion, each layer reveals another. My latest book, Favorite Son, took so many changes after the research started, it’s not even the same story! Research created a connection between me and the story. I go deeper and the story becomes more real.”
Like most of us indie authors, James wishes he could afford more professional help, especially with regard to marketing.
“ I fought this long and hard and finally gave in. I am currently working with an artist to redesign my first three covers. I’ve had a lot of ‘it’s ok’ responses to the covers I’ve designed. ‘It’s ok’ doesn’t sell novels. I’m also looking at some marketing services. If I had to give advice it would be, what you can do yourself, do. Otherwise, hire someone who is good at it. Also, unless you have a few thousand dollars just laying around, you’re going to have to prioritize. For me it was covers and marketing because that’s what gets the books in folks hands. You can also bypass some costs by tapping into different writing communities. I can’t put a price on how useful my writing group is. Check out social media for groups in your town. It will be worth it.”
(Images of the old covers are alongside, so you can judge for yourself whether they qualify as “okay” or “special”, FP)
James’s favorite writers are Tom Clancy, Vince Flynn, Dashiell Hammett, Ian Fleming, and Walter Mosley. but the one he would most like to meet is Walter Mosely.
“ Just to hear the story of how he brought Easy Rawlins, to compete in a media where there are so few African American heroes. And how he connects with his audience, what worked best for them in their marketing…that sort of thing. I have seen writing good and bad but the mystery I struggle with is the marketing. I truly believe that’s the difference between a sold book and a stack in your basement is the marketing.”
An ideal day for James would be different depending on whether or not he had won a lottery prize.
“ I guess in the real world, waking up late, watching the Saint (starring Roger Moore, of course) with the wife and my dogs. And being in Detroit, of course, I have to get a couple of coney dogs at Kerby’s. Throw in a steak for dinner and man, that’s a day. But for a fantasy, I’m seeing a cruise ship, a beach and long days of doing nothing.”
Asked to name something about him that might surprise his readers, James reveals his love of dogs.
“ My wife and I have fostered over 20 dogs. We volunteer with a local organization that spare dogs from being destroyed. Once they’re rescued from shelters, we provided them a home and help socialize the little rascals, until someone adopts them. Well, except for the two dogs we ended up keeping!”
I hope you have enjoyed reading about James. You can discover much more, and links to his books, on his website.
Rebecca was the second Indie Author to feature in my “A Date With . . .” series during 2018 (the original interview is here). I recently asked her for an update on her career and her hobbies. This is what she said:
“Once again this year, royalties from sales and page reads of Touching the Wire for the whole of January, will be donated to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. I’d love some more sales, but this year, sales of it seem a bit slow although I am getting page reads via Kindle Unlimited, all of which count towards the donation.
My books are being read, and that is the important thing. I feel as if I’m making a little headway.
Last year, I published The Dandelion Clock, and it’s had some amazing reviews*. (The ending made me cry, by the way) Sales are steady , and I’m embarking on Amazon ads in the hope of spreading my words to a larger audience – I watched a webinar this afternoon about Google and Amazon keywords and categories – interesting stuff if I can put it into practice, but promotion is a tricky business and very time consuming when I’d rather be writing. I suppose it’s part of the price to pay for deciding to be an Independent author.
My WIP, Kindred and Affinity, is inspired by another branch of my errant forebears. This time, it’s my father’s side of the family that’s under scrutiny and comes up not so squeaky clean. My paternal grandfather was a Methodist and signed the pledge, mainly because his father was an alcoholic who beat his wife, got drunk, and fell off a roof. (He was a builder) My paternal grandmother’s father married sisters at a time when it was against the rules of kindred and affinity in the book of Common Prayer, hence the book title. He married his dead wife’s sister in 1891, and it wasn’t legal until 1907 so it must have been done in secret somehow. There had to be a story there, didn’t there? It’s taken me a while to tease it out, and I’ve discovered a lot about a woman I only knew as Auntie Annie, who died aged ninety when I was about seven. If I’d known I was going to write her story, I’d have asked her what it was… But you’ll have to read Kindred and Affinity to find out more. I’m 66,000 words into it and hope to publish it later this year.
This story is the first time that I’ve had no idea of the beginning or the end, but only a part of the middle – usually I have a beginning and an end and no idea what will happen in between. My books are somewhat seat of the pants writing style as dictated by the stupid decisions my characters make. I have various projects in mind to follow next year, but I’m not sure which one I’ll choose. They’re all contemporary fiction – mainly mystery, which will make a change from writing historical fiction. I have the titles and the covers for inspiration, but so far the stories are no more than a vague idea in the back of my mind.
Last year, I revisited all my published titles and edited them. You know the sort of thing – moved a few commas, cut out repetition, tightened the writing a bit. It took several months but was worth doing, and I enjoyed reconnecting with my characters. I had On Different Shores professionally edited and learnt a lot in the process – money well spent – hence my subsequent self-editing spree. I also brought out a box set of For Their Country’s Good trilogy which is selling steadily. Haven’t I been busy?
So busy, my painting has suffered a bit. I’m still painting and exhibiting in St Davids. We have two exhibitions a year at Easter and the beginning of August and sell a lot of work. I enjoy it, even though I don’t do as much as I’d like, and I’ve made good friends. It isn’t such a solitary occupation as writing, where my friends are mainly ‘virtual’ but good friends none-the-less.
In between painting and writing, I’ve replanted the new garden after spraying the whole area with weed killer to get rid of brambles – 24 one-ton bags went to the tip before we sprayed. I had to wait a year before I could re-plant, so I’m looking forward to some colour this summer. And we’ve put in a new fireplace and new curtains. And when I’m really bored, I mean desperately mind-numbingly bored, (edit out those adverbs) I do some housework!
Anything else? I’m hoping to look into the production of audio books this year. It is something I’d like to do as my mother and mother-in-law both lost their sight in later years and relied on talking books. Other than that, I’m a year older, a year stiffer, and hopefully, a year wiser and a better writer. Life is one huge learning curve, and I’m still climbing it.”
Lisa Shambrook lives in Carmarthen, “an old market town in the West Wales hills, [which] is inspiring as I’m surrounded by rolling hills, mountains, woods and forests, and I’m a stone’s throw from several gorgeous beaches. The scenery constantly changes and Wales, as a whole, has inspired my latest post-apocalyptic work The Seren Stone Chronicles and I’ve just finished writing the first drafts of all three books.”
I am aware that there is a community of writers residing in that part of the world, several of whom are, like Lisa, members of IASD. I suggested that this must offer stimulation and she agreed:
“I attend several local book fairs, and my fellow Welsh authors are a friendly, supportive, and generally amazing bunch. Christoph Fischer and Graham Watkins are regulars with me, and I recently met Penny Luker when she joined us too. I’ve met some truly inspiring authors within the IASD group and further afield in my local writing community like Carol Lovekin, Judith Arnopp, Thorne Moore, Judith Barrow, Greg Howes, and Cheryl Beer, and read some of their amazing books!”
Lisa recently made the move from self-publishing to a traditional contract with a small independent publisher, BHC. What made her decide on that route and how did she find BHC?
“I discovered BHC some years ago and they recently became my traditional publishers at BHC Press. I struggle with the formatting side of self-publishing and love the way they format my books. They offered me a contract a year or so ago for my Surviving Hope series and for A Symphony of Dragons and the contract worked well for me. I have also been given the opportunity with BHC Press to write an introduction and an original short story for their release of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, and that was a real privilege.
I found self-publishing difficult within my emotional/mental health parameters and knowing my publisher is looking after me is helpful. I still have a great deal of say with my work and publishing, and marketing, as we all know, is something we take on as authors, so I do a lot of my own marketing too.”
She writes fantasies in which hope springs from tragedy and believes such themes are important in helping people of all ages cope with life’s ups and downs:
“The Surviving Hope books: Beneath the Rainbow, Beneath the Old Oak, and Beneath the Distant Star have dealt with difficult subjects. They work with grief, depression, self-harm, anger issues, and bullying. It’s heavy stuff, but essential to understand the human condition. I have suffered severe anxiety and depression for most of my life and so the themes have been woven easily into the books with compassion and empathy. The main theme of Beneath the Rainbow is living life to the full and reaching for those so called impossible dreams. I think it’s imperative for both the young and the old to understand these themes and to know they are represented within fiction.”
Lisa has participated in a number of collaborations, including with musicians as well as other writers:
“I worked with Samantha Redstreake Geary when she offered a chance to write for a project she was heading for Audiomachine’s album Tree Of Life. We each wrote a story that continued with the next author and moved through the entire instrumental album. I loved writing a short piece that resounded with the music and worked so well with my sense of empathy and beauty. She included me on a couple of other musical contributions too and it was a real treat as music and the written word work perfectly together!
“Working with other authors is revitalising, and I’m very proud of my collaborations, including You are Not Alone with Ian D. Moore, which many IASD authors will know.”
The proceeds from You are Not Alone are donated to the Macmillan Nurses cancer support charity in the UK. Other collaborations also enabled Lisa and her fellow writers to support charity:
“My favourite collaboration is Human 76 which I managed along with my daughter Bekah, and authors Michael Wombat, and Miranda Kate. My family loves taking out-of-the-ordinary family portrait photographs and we did a post-apocalyptic shoot a few years ago. A photo of my daughter became an inspiration to a group of my author friends and we decided to write a collection of stories surrounding her character. It became an amazing project, pulling fourteen authors together with a great original concept. Each story in this collection follows individual characters through a post-apocalyptic world and they meet the main character at some point during their story. She affects many lives as she searches for her kidnapped sister. I wrote Ghabri, our main character, and put together the opening and closing chapters, the other stories weave between and I was astounded at how well they all worked and brought a wonderful book together.
“When we put the book out there we wanted to support a charity and to fit the themes in the book ‘Water Is Life’ is the charity we chose. It provides clean water in countries without it, and it’s lovely to know you are contributing to something worthwhile and important.”
As well as writing, Lisa has a business which uses old books in a unique and innovative way:
“I have an Etsy shop called Amaranth Alchemy (Not to be confused with an American design consultancy with the same name, FP) which I began with my daughter, but I now run on my own. I hate seeing books going to waste and a local charity collects books to give back to the community, but some are beyond repair. I use books that have been damaged or abandoned and give them new life as book marks, picture frames, and other gifts. I breathe new life into old pages…”
I wondered if there were any copyright issues with such a business. She agrees you have to be careful with certain authors’ works:
“You cannot use Tolkien’s books as the Tolkien estate is very protective of any outside usage. Many old books are already in the public domain. I am only reusing pages that would have gone to landfill, and as far as I know there are no copyright issues with recycling.”
When asked about her favourite authors, she admits t having several:
“My most favourite author is Garth Nix, I adore the Old Kingdom series, especially Lirael my favourite book. I love Tolkien, having been brought up with The Hobbit’ and Lord of the Rings. I have eclectic reading tastes, so often choose books according to the individual story, rather than the author. I also love The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss, and he’d be an author I’d like to meet along with Nix. I think I’d ask about their confidence in their writing, how they learned to accept and embrace their own styles, because I think that’s probably one of the most important things about writing. Not sure where we’d go though.”
In answer to my final question she confesses to being “a quiet introvert”, but she loves “to talk about the deep things of life. I find socialising almost impossible and struggle with people. I think I’m a bit of a squirrel – a scatty, secretive, panicky, hoarding, arty, curl-up-and-sleep, autumnal creature!”
I enjoyed my chat with Lisa. I hope you do, too. Why not check out her website where you can find more information about her books along with purchase links.
Throughout 2019 I intend to post updates on each of the authors I featured in my “A Date With . .. .” series in 2018. Dominique Kyle was my first date, back on January 11th last year. You can read the original interview here. She very kindly broke into a climbing holiday in Sicily to provide this update.
In the original interview, we talked about her series about a young woman stock car racer which had the protagonist, in the fifth book, investigating a paedophile gang in her Northern English home town. Dominique bemoaned the fact that, unlike her protagonist, no woman reached further than a semi-final of the World Championship since 1980. A good place, it seemed to me, to begin our recap by asking if that was still the case.
Apparently it is, because: “Courtney Finnikin qualified this year for the 2018 F2 Stocks world championships semi-final but withdrew.”
The other subject that we discussed last year was what Dominique saw as the refusal to face up to and discuss the activities of grooming gangs. Throughout 2018 there were a number of successful prosecutions, government debates and reports, documentaries and drama documentaries. At the same time: “Sarah Champion (MP for Rotherham) has been working tirelessly for change on many issues to do with abuse, new identikit grooming gangs have come to light recently in other British towns, court cases continue, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has continued and they launched the ‘Truth Project’ last year for abuse victims to put their accounts on record*, the UK Parliament signified its determination to end the sexual exploitation of children around the world by ratifying the Lanzarote Convention, national days to raise awareness of grooming gangs have been organised by County Councils – the list is endless.
This is a double-edged sword for an author. Two years ago, my book was cutting-edge, taking on a subject that no one wanted to tackle (and which publishers were wary of touching due to the perceived inherent ‘racism’ of the subject), and now it may come across as a tawdry ‘jump on the bandwagon’, and the whole subject may soon become tired and passé. This was why I didn’t make it a one-subject book. By including the topic of organised abuse gangs in a series that is mostly about a girl trying to make it to the top in the Stock Car racing world means that it will always be part of a wider dialogue.”
Nevertheless, Dominique has not “noticed a sudden rise in interest in my book at times of national interest in the subject. I changed keywords and search terms for the book while the ‘Three Girls’ drama was being advertised and when Sammy Woodhouse brought out her book. I’ve done promotions at key times. I’ve tweeted out on the subject using the hashtag that the County Councils use on their national awareness days. But I don’t know if any of these have had any long-term effect on raising the profile of the novel.
I would like the book to reach either girls in danger of being groomed, or parents and carers who don’t know anything about the issue, to raise awareness. To this end, my most successful ploy has been to make it known that I always make the book free on the first of every month. I put this in my author profile on Amazon, and now, even though some months I don’t advertise or even tweet about it being free, I usually get around forty downloads of the book – so someone out there is finding it! It doesn’t appear to lead to sales of the rest of the series, and I don’t even know if the people downloading it are actually reading it, or even what demographic they are, as no reviews ever arrive on Amazon, but I am hoping that this means that the book is getting out to at least a few people who need to read it.”
Meanwhile Dominique “has been getting the six-book series through an editor. A year on and the editor has only managed to complete five of them, as she likes to leave a couple of months between each to make sure she has substantially forgotten details of the story-line so she can come to each book fresh… However, I had a real piece of luck getting this editor, so I genuinely value her input.
Another author who I met through Goodreads recommended her own editor who is a medieval expert. I was dubious. Why would a woman who knows everything there is to know about some very ancient history, want to edit a series about modern car racing? But I approached her anyway and she fell on my series with every appearance of joy saying that she’d spotted it out there in the ether and had been wanting to take a look at it! Apparently, she’s a secret petrol-head who for years was a marshal in the Formula Ford format (which used to feed into Grand Prix F1) and grew up driving cars around fields! And the author who recommended her to me had no idea about this… So, a marriage made in heaven, I’d say. She’s so picky that I get emails saying, ‘now that you’ve set the date of your first book at 2007 – you cannot use that model of VW as it did not get launched onto the market until Autumn 2009’. Doh! You get the picture…”
With no new writing having taken place “for nearly eighteen months”, she “tried to get going again. But I struggled to work out what to write. My ‘Not Quite Eden’ series is quite unusual, both in its subject matter and by having an awkward anti-heroine as its main protagonist, so I didn’t want to disappoint fans by my next book seeming too tame.”
She “started three, but one (despite the promising subject matter following a girl who joins the FEMEN protest movement) turned out surprisingly bland; one I couldn’t follow through on because it is about an anarchic young male wheelchair-user and I need my two wheelchair-using nephews co-operation on it and they’ve both been too busy; and third I originally wrote in the mid 1990’s and it now seemed too old-fashioned! So by the end of this year, I still hadn’t written anything that was close to being suitable to be released into the world.
Finally, I picked up my nineties ‘first’ novel and decided on a seriously radical re-write/edit, treating it as though I was adapting it for a TV serial and as though it wasn’t anything to do with me. And suddenly, I had a breakthrough and I was flying. No one can get a word out of me now. Work doesn’t get done. Friends don’t get emails. My husband mutters ‘tappity-tap’ as he passes me on my laptop.
I have no idea if fans of my current series will like it. They may hate it simply because it is so different, and they hoped for more of the same and I may get blasted by ‘disappointed’ reviews. But I don’t care.
One of the revelations I had when I picked up this old manuscript, was that over twenty years ago, when I was not much older than the featured protagonists, I was taking on the subject matter of domestic violence and ‘coercive control’ – a term that has only recently been coined and put into law. And I was amazed to find that the way I wrote about it then, when still in my early twenties, was as though the coercive control aspect in it was simply what was to be expected in male/female relationships. However, I am relieved to find that I had a campaign going on in the story line against the outright domestic violence side of it – which was still a substantially unrecognised/under-recorded phenomenon then. How times have changed! So I’ve left it set back in 1995, but I’m bringing out the message in a way that wouldn’t have been understood by readers twenty-four years ago. And at last I’m thoroughly enjoying the whole process of writing again.”
So it seems that Dominique is still as controversial as ever and determined to write about topical aspects of the relationships between men and women. I wish her every success.
Her Amazon book page is here
*There is another ‘Truth Project’, as I discovered when I googled the term. I have provided a link to the correct site. (FP)
Chris Robertson lives in the community of Niagara Falls in Ontario. I wondered how long he has lived there.
“I’ve lived pretty much my entire life here in ‘The Falls’ as locals call it. I was born here, married here, and all three of my children were born here. In my mid twenties my family and I moved to Peterborough, Ontario, but moved back here after only eighteen months. There really isn’t all that much to say about likes and dislikes though. Other than a whole bunch of falling water and ‘tourist traffic hell’ in the summertime it really isn’t any different than other places. No matter what happens it will always be my hometown.”
He doesn’t see his writing as a career:
“Not the way I look at it anyway. It’s really something that started off as a joke. Tom Rotella (co-author of Sparks in the Dark) and I were talking about entering a short story contest one day. He showed me the story he wrote, I thought it was good so I wrote one for fun. That turned out good as well so we both just continued writing and reading each other’s stories until one day I realised there were enough of them to put together a book. I approached him with the idea, he said yes and the rest is history I guess.
I love writing short stories, probably because I have always been partial to reading them as well. I feel like a lot of authors ‘pad’ their works with over-descriptive nonsense. In a spot where I would write His grey hair was moving in the gentle breeze. Other authors take three full pages to describe that very statement. I feel like any full length novel on the market today can be condensed down to eight to fifteen thousand words and still be just as good (or bad) of a story as it is full length. The pacing would just be more exciting.”
On the surface his latest book is about the topical subject of sexual abuse but
“It is actually the biography of someone very close to me and I felt like it was a story that needed to be heard. Other than some minor changes throughout, it is a true story and that is probably the most disturbing thing about it.”
Chris’s short fiction is inspired by song titles:
“How I choose my subjects is totally unorthodox and most people will probably laugh but here it is. On a day when I know I am going to be writing, I set my music player to random. The first song that pops up is now the basis for whatever I want to write. I just take whatever the song title is, mull it over and over in my head and usually within minutes I have a full story in my head based on the song title alone. If you look into the anthologies you will see titles such as Joey, Welcome to the jungle, Crazy Mary, According to You, The promise, These Days, I Don’t Love You Anymore, and Airplanes, which are all stories that were created simply by thinking about the song title for just five to ten minutes.”
Chris is mainly a “plotter” but admits to occasionally being a “pantser”
“Sometimes when the ideas come I will start with just bullet form. After that frame is down I start at the top, look at the first two and figure how they get from one point to two and add a few more points in between. I continue this all the way through then start over again. Eventually there are enough bullets to start to form sentences and paragraphs with them, and then the story is born. Other times I just start writing and see where my mind wanders off to and just make it all up as I go. Those ones tend to be darker and more twisted.”
Chris plays bass in a heavy metal band and enjoys cooking so
“I really don’t have a [set] time [for writing]. I just do it whenever I can. Between work, playing bass in a band, and my family I don’t get near as much time as I would like. As for a place, I have an office adjoining my bedroom at home. That’s where ninety percent of my writing is done. The other ten percent is when I am lying in bed with my laptop.”
Asked about his favourite writers, Chris admits to having lost his early admiration for Stephen King and Dean Koontz:
“I grew up on Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe, and Dean Koontz. Those guys were the be all end all for me. I couldn’t get enough. As I got older though and I read some of their newer stuff, (King and Koontz) I find that their style has changed and I am finding them harder to read now. It goes back to the ‘padding’ that I spoke of earlier. Their newer books have so much of it that some I have tried to read have been absolute snorefests. Some I’ve had to put down after only a couple chapters because they totally lost my interest just droning on and on.
I have recently started reading Edward Lee and Jack Ketchum and I am impressed with them in the sense that they hold nothing back. They don’t care if something is offensive or disgusting if they feel it belongs in the story then they put it in there. That’s something that I have now integrated into my own writing as well. I held back on the first book so as to not scare people away but in the end I felt I wasn’t being true to myself so no more holding back.
My favorite book of all time though is Faerie Tale by Raymond Feist. I have read that book fourteen times and counting. I tweeted about it once and he replied that he didn’t even read it that many times while proofing it.”
And that taste in literature is reflected in his movie choices, except for one:
“My wife and I are movie nuts and watch a lot of them. I love the Jurassic World, Transformers, Avengers and almost any horror movie that comes out. As for older movies I think my favorites are Jaws, Cujo, Carrie, Rocky, Class of 1984, and there are a ton of others as well but my all time favorite, don’t laugh now, is Seven brides for Seven Brothers.”
It is hard to find anything about Chris on-line, even reviews of his books so I asked him to sell himself and his books to you, my readers.
“It’s funny that there are no reviews online but all the reviews that have been told to me in person have been fantastic. I’ve had people come up to me in the store and say ‘Hey, are you the guy who wrote that book?’ When I tell them ‘yes’ they usually say nice things and tell me which story was their favorite.
I guess one of the things that I can honestly say is that you will never be bored reading the books. They are an absolute roller coaster ride from one story to the next. As for According To You, I think that everyone should read it to get an insight into what happens to kids sometimes right under our noses. Even as neighbors and relatives we don’t always see what is happening but there are signs, and we as a general public need to be more aware of them.
One thing I will say is that no matter what genre you normally read, there is something in the collections for you. I am so proud when I talk to people and they all have a different favorite story. To me that speaks volumes on the strength of them.”
Despite being short of time for writing, Chris is presently working on
“Four different writing projects at the moment. I have a new collection coming out this year. I am also working on taking an old book from the public domain and modernizing it. I am having a lot of fun with that one. I am working on putting together a cookbook which hopefully will be available this year as well. There is one more going on but I am going to keep that one under wraps for now.”
That means that his wife will be kept quite busy, too, because
“My covers are all designed by my wife and myself.”
Chris describes himself as “just a simple family man who loves to weave words into short tales. I also play bass in the metal band ‘Oath of Secrecy.’ We have just finished recording our first album and that is yet another thing to look forward to releasing this year.
Another thing about me is that I really enjoy cooking. I don’t do it nearly as often as I would like to. My wife does most of it. Between the two of us we have come up with some great dishes. We tend to not stick with a certain cuisine though. We just enjoy food.”
I enjoyed my chat with Christopher Robertson (There is at least one other author called Chris Robertson on Amazon, not to be confused with this one!) I hope you did too. Next week I shall start updating last year’s “dates” with what they have been doing over the past year.
Here are links to his books at Amazon.com:
Sparks in the Dark (with Thomas Rotella)
Denzil Walton is a freelance writer who lives near Brussels, a place that has a poor image among many of his fellow English men and women, although that has more to do with the institutions based there than the actual place. I began by asking him what he likes about the city and what, if anything, he dislikes.
“I actually live in a small Flemish town about 20 km to the east of Brussels, near Leuven. It’s a totally different world there from Brussels. However, I do like Brussels when I visit it for business. It has a certain energy about it, undoubtedly linked to the major decision-making institutions there. I like the wonderful diversity of the city, and of Belgium as a whole. For example, recently I attended an English Carol Service. It was in a Flemish church with a South African choir leader and readings in English, Danish, French, Dutch, Polish and German. For me, that event encapsulated much of why I enjoy living on continental Europe: not just the diversity but the interdependency. It’s not all wonderful, of course. I get frustrated sometimes with the bureaucracy here, a lot of which is linked to there being three official languages and a stunning complexity of federal, regional, provincial and municipal governments.”
For most of the people I interview on this site, writing is a secondary source of income or a career path adopted following retirement. Denzil has made his living as a writer for many years. How does he view those people who take up writing alongside, or after, a different occupation?
“With total respect. I admire anyone who takes up a new skill or develops an old one after retirement, whether it’s writing or something else. There’s certainly no thought of ‘competition’. There’s always more room for more authors and more books!”
On his business writing website he says: “I love writing, whether it’s to convince, encourage, inform, or simply make complicated subjects understandable.” Which of those aims does he regard as most important?
“They are all equally important, depending on the writing task and target audience. If I’m writing a newspaper article on self-driving cars then my primary goal may be to explain how they work and the potential benefits and challenges of this new technology. If I’m writing a more technical blog post on electricity grid networks then the readers will be fully acquainted with the subject but might be more interested in me informing them of the latest developments or political discussions in that area.”
Does he see a potential for danger in “writing to convince” which could be construed as propaganda? How would he view the difference between the former and the latter?
“In the Business-to-Business sector in which I work, my ‘writing to convince’ is focused on convincing a potential customer that a particular product is going to meet their requirements. In other words, it starts by defining what a customer needs. For example, they might need a ½-inch air operated diaphragm pump for a particular application. The product brochure I write will hopefully convince them that my client’s ½-inch air operated diaphragm pump fits the bill perfectly. It’s not a case of selling them a 1-inch pump just so that my client can earn more money. That practice belongs more to the Business-to-Consumer sector where there is more writing to convince consumers to buy something they don’t really need. I am not active in that area.”
Denzil makes no secret of his great love of nature. That’s what inspired his series of books and the website he created to “encourage a child” to participate in various nature related activities. What was his own inspiration for this passion?
“I think I was inspired by nature herself. At a young age I suddenly became fascinated by the birds and butterflies in the garden and wanted to know more about them. I don’t remember being inspired by a person. In fact, as my interest in nature developed, it was me who inspired my parents to show more of an interest in nature! However, once I began to show an interest in nature, I was inspired by some of the great nature writers that I read when I was young. My first inspiration was Henry Williamson. His most famous book is Tarka the Otter but he wrote a series of nature books that I found wonderful. Then I discovered the delightful books of Gerald Durrell. These days my favourite inspirational nature authors are John Lewis-Stempel, Patrick Barkham and John Lister-Kaye.”
What does he see as the dangers that children face from spending too long glued to their screens?
“There is increasing scientific evidence that over-use of screens can lead to children experiencing behavioural problems, attention difficulties and sleep disorders. As being in front of a screen is a sedentary occupation,obesity is a risk. And if the screen-time is exposing a child to violence, there is the risk of bullying or even greater aggression. I believe that adults can experience negative side-effects from too much screen time too. I started avoiding screens in the evenings after realizing they were affecting my own sleep patterns.”
And what are the benefits of engaging with nature?
“In this respect I’m indebted to the work and books of Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle in which he coined the phrase ‘nature-deficit disorder’. He describes the benefits of connecting children with nature as including improving mental acuity, enhancing creativity, reducing depression, fighting obesity, and simply promoting overall health and wellness. Oh and simply having fun!”
Are there benefits also for the adult who takes up the challenge of “encouraging a child”to engage with nature?
“I think being with a child in nature can help an adult discover their ‘inner child’ and enjoy a welcome break from the stresses and anxieties of their life. It’s also a great ‘natural medicine’ in the fight against depression – and time outdoors is actually being increasingly prescribed by doctors! Encouraging a child to engage with nature – for example by watching birds together, as I describe in my book – can strengthen bonds between adults and children. And as I mentioned above, being in nature is such fun! Adults can’t fail to be inspired themselves when they see and share in a child’s amazement and wonder at the natural world around us.”
I certainly wish Denzil the very best of luck with this new and exciting project. Here is my review of the first book in the series:
Do you know a child who spends too long glued to some kind of screen? Be it smart phone, tablet, lap top, gaming machine or the TV in their room, we can all agree that too much screen time is bad for them. Do you wish there was something you could get them excited about that would have the benefit of separating them from their screens whilst providing fresh air, exercise and a new outlet for their natural curiosity?
Freelance writer and nature lover Denzil Walton may have the answer. His new little book entitled “Encourage a Child to Watch Birds” is a delight. It is, too, the first in a series of books that have the aim of encouraging us adults to encourage children to take part in activities other than spending time attached to their screens. Yet to come are: “Encourage a Child to – study small mammals”, “– enjoy creepy-crawlies”, “– learn about trees”, and “– care for the planet”.
Meanwhile “ – Watch Birds” contains 10 increasingly advanced suggestions for ways to interest children aged from 7 to 12 in discovering facts about birds by observing their behaviour and listening to their songs. From watching ducks in the local municipal park to feeding the birds that visit your garden or balcony, to constructing nesting boxes, the book explains the dos and don’ts of caring for wild birds. Written in accessible language, it would suit a grandparent, uncle or aunt who wants to help their grand child, niece or nephew to develop outside interests.
It takes about 30 minutes to read the book but it will provide hours of pleasure for you and that special child as you progress from watching (not feeding) the ducks to using binoculars to observe birds of prey in action or dissecting owl pellets to identify the kinds of animals they feed on.