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My latest ‘date’ is with Chris-Jean Clarke. Chris lives in South Staffordshire with her husband, Geoff, two teenagers and their adorable Papillion, Romey, who enjoys spending a few hours a week putting a smile on the faces of the patients at their local mental health hospital – Romey is a Pets as Therapy dog.
I asked first about her book Honesty in World War 2, originally published in 2016 and recently re-released.
“Honesty in World War 2 was inspired by an event that happened to my father following his National Service.
Prior to putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard), I spent numerous hours researching and double-checking facts and stories told to me and my siblings by my mum about her experience of the war years. – She was only seven years old, when the war ended. – My mum inspired a number of events in my story. For example, my mum used to be a Tomboy and loved climbing trees. She bet the local boys that she could climb higher than them. On the positive side, she succeeded in her quest as she fell, bringing the branch down with her. However, on the negative side, she gashed her leg on a barbed wire fence. She often showed us her scar and was proud that she didn’t have any stitch marks, which she attributed to my granddad (her father) using a cobweb on the wound. In my story, twins Simon & Samuel (two of the evacuees) are playing by the brook when one of them has an accident. – Having been brought up in the city they not only struggle with living in the countryside, but would rather create mayhem than attempt to fit in. – Imagine their horror when Cyril’s mum starts to bandage a cobweb to the wound on Simon’s leg, especially as the villagers had already tied a pig’s lung to their younger sister’s feet to cure her of Pneumonia!
Although, Honesty in World War 2 was taken down from publication for a short while & has since been re-released, this was due to personal reasons. I promise the story has not been amended since 2016.”
Next I asked her about To Dye For and the Books4Kids programme for which it was written.
“PS Publishing and the Books 4 Kids program is a 501c3 non-profit corporation with a mission to “build children’s character through books.” The B4K brings authors to the classroom – in person or through electronic conferencing. The author reads from his or her book, answers student questions and then leads a discussion re. the moral of the book. – The moral behind To Dye For is self-esteem. – At the end of the discussion each child receives a free copy of the book.
To Dye For opens with Beth, a year-ten student daydreaming about fellow student, Mikolos (“Mike”) Samaras. However, thanks to the antics of Jenny Parker and Shelly Barnes, Beth truly believes that she doesn’t stand a chance with a guy like Mike – because she has red hair. Unwittingly, Mike also reinforces this notion by frequently teasing Beth about her hair. Beth becomes so despondent about her appearance that she decides the only way to solve her problems, is to emulate her younger sister’s beautiful locks and dye her hair the same shade as Grace’s. – After all, Grace is adored by everyone and has stunning strawberry blonde hair.”
Chris is a member of the Peacock Writers, a group of eighteen independent writers from around the world.
“Each of our anthologies are written around a given theme. 100% of the profits from the sale of these books are donated to aid various charities.
I have contributed to nine books, so far, but the book I would strongly recommend is: Springtime Bullies: Special Illustrated Edition (The Peacock Writers Present) (Volume 6)”
Before becoming a writer Chris had a long career working with people with disabilities. I asked her how that experience influenced her writing projects.
“Many of my stories have at least one secondary character who has a disability or special need.
For example, Beth’s sister, Grace in To Dye For has Down’s syndrome. Whilst, in Honesty in World War 2, Malcolm a veteran of the first world war, is slightly senile, and in a way childlike. Whereas, Graham is severely scarred and has walking difficulties – these injuries were incurred when his family home in London was bombed during the war.”
Chris doesn’t have “the luxury of having a quiet space to write, but that’s okay because I know deep down that if my family were to fly the nest, I would just waste the hours stressing about them, instead of writing.”
When it comes to editing, illustration and cover design, Chris uses a range of specialist services.
“To Dye For was edited by my publishing company, PS publishing and the Books 4 Kids program. They also commissioned an illustrator for my cover design.
Honesty in World War 2 was edited by Valerie Byron, author of No Ordinary Woman and other works. Trish Reeb, author of Death by Default and other works, proofread my manuscript. The online community at BookRix & LinkedIn encouraged me to work and rework my opening chapter to create the atmosphere and mood of the train station. (Initially, I had only intended the first chapter to be written in a couple of lines, as I wanted to swiftly move into Cyril’s story. Instead, Cyril’s story starts in chapter two.) Another member at BookRix created my cover for me, by manipulating Emily Roesly’s images. (NB Approval was sought from and granted by Ms. Roesly, author of Whispering Water and other works.) Sharon Brownlie, author of Betrayal and other works reformatted my cover, so that I have the option to have it published as a paperback or hardback copy, later this year.
My books for the Peacock Writers anthologies are edited as a group effort. – We read each other’s stories and offer each other tips. One of our members, Laszlo Kugler, author of Whisper and other works, creates most of our cover art.”
Chris promotes her books at BookRix, LinkedIn, FaceBook & Twitter.
“More of my books have sold since I have been active in FaceBook’s promotional groups, geared to drawing writers and authors together.
However, the other platforms have also been beneficial to me in their own right. In addition, to the support at BookRix community, their system converts our files so that our eBooks can be purchased from all of the major online stores. Trish Reeb, reached out to me via Twitter & offered her free time to proofread Honesty in World War 2. This story has also attracted interest at LinkedIn from a publishing company seeking autobiographies, and an indie film script writer.”
When I asked about writers whose work she admires, she nominated Doug Simpson, author of Soul Awakening.
“[He] is my inspiration. Although Simpson’s story is fictionalised, it is based on his belief that it is plausible for a person to have lived previous lives, whilst still holding fast to, and respecting, the religious belief that there is a heaven (or hell). It gave me great peace of mind to think that I may become acquainted again with family members who have passed on before me, and I don’t need to wait until I die before I will be able to chat to them again.”
As usual I wound up our discussion by asking Chris to reveal something about herself that might surprise her readers.
“Approximately 65% of my employment, took me from mundane to far flung places. One day, I could be cleaning/tidying bedrooms & bathrooms, wiping bums or cleaning up vomit, and the next I could be shopping for clothes or Christmas/birthday presents, eating out/going to the pictures or going on day trips/holidays in England and overseas.”
I enjoyed my date with Chris Jean Clarke and, now that I have shared it with you, I hope you did to.
My ‘date’ this time is with a Scottish writer who has lived for more than a quarter century in Australia. Cathy Donnelly lives in Frankston on the Mornington Peninsula in the State of Victoria. Here is her description:
“It is a coastal city about an hour from Melbourne and is a great place to live. I am fortunate to be able to walk on the beach almost every day. When I was in Scotland I bought all the waterproof gear so I can walk even when the waves are thrashing against the rocks and the sea wall. Everything I need is no more than 15 minutes’ drive away – the bay, the library, the shops, where I attend the local writing group and lovely botanical gardens.
I love working in my garden and feeding the many species of birds that come to visit. They used to come for dinner in the evening but now it is breakfast and a snack during the day as well. It always makes me smile to see them lined up on the decking rail, singing their hearts out, or just waiting patiently until I notice them. The kookaburras take the food from my hand and the magpies bring their babies and leave them while they go off and do what they do. They obviously trust us not to harm them as they are known to attack anyone who gets near their young.
We get the different seasons here, which I love. It can reach 40 degrees sometimes in the summer but not usually for weeks on end. You know relief from the humidity will eventually come. The area also has a reputation of having all four seasons on the same day.
Nevil Shute, the author of A Town Like Alice and On the Beach, used to live here. Some of the scenes in the movie version of On the Beach were filmed around here and there is an old photo of Gregory Peck standing on the same station I caught the train from every day for the 15 years I worked in Melbourne.”
Despite her long sojourn in Australia, it is Scotland and its history that inspires Cathy’s writing.
“I moved to Australia when I was forty and although I have lived here for 26 years now, Scotland is still home. I visit my family every two or three years and its beauty still takes my breath away. My sister, Linda, and her family live in the house I was brought up in.
It is so special to still be able to sleep in my parents’ old room and visit the village where I went to school and grew up in. I love the familiarity and the memories.
I was checking with my other sister, Wilma, on Skype the other night about the time it would take for one the characters in my new novel to travel by car from one of the tourist hotspots near her, to Edinburgh. The route is mostly two-way roads through villages. She said it depended on the ain’t thats. You could be driving along the road doing the speed limit when suddenly the car in front of you slows right down, causing all the cars behind it to put on their brakes. The locals call these drivers aint thats because they know at least one person in that car is pointing out of the window and saying “ain’t that beautiful”. It happens all the time. I am sure everyone knows that the Scots are well known for their calm demeanour.”
Like Kate Mosse, Cathy uses the idea of reincarnation and other time-shifting devices to take her protagonists to different historical periods.
“I have always been fascinated by the concepts of past lives and time travel. They open up such possibilities from a personal point of view, and more so when it comes to telling a story. With my first novel Distant Whispers, I was able to combine quite a few of my interests – reincarnation, the Knights Templar, Alexander the Great, religions – using these concepts. I thoroughly enjoy the scope it gives me in my writing.”
I asked Cathy about the lessons that could be – and perhaps have not been – learned from the many conflicts that feature in Scottish history.
“History was one of my favourite subjects at school so I knew even as a child that the English and the Scots had always fought amongst themselves, and against each other, throughout their ancient history.
The kings and queens, nobles and gentry, could do what they wanted in those days. It could be that they were just bored with their daily lives or easily offended, but no matter what the reason, one side would do the wrong thing and it would be “round up the peasants” and off they went to pillage and destroy.
I used to think all this history was just that – something in the past, but for some reason the Scots, as with the Irish, do not forget easily. They can carry a grudge for a very long time. I listened to some of the debates and discussions about Scotland independence. I am a very patriotic Scot but I had to ask myself – why do we need it?
We may share the same island and have the same royal family, but the Scots, the English, and also the Irish, all have their separate identities.
I have never considered myself anything but Scottish.
I have noticed that Scots do not seem to mind if their accent is mistaken for Irish when they are overseas, but God forbid if someone asks if they are English. I do not think there would be many Scots who do not have English relatives.
In the lead up to the vote for independence, I asked a friend, who is a fierce, obsessive, Scottish Nationalist, how would it work regarding pensions, health care, borders etc. Her answer was “just let’s get independence and we can worry about all that later.’
On the English side, I do not think they care one way or the other. They recognise we are Scottish and they are English and we both have pride in our heritage.
So, the answer to your question. There are still many people who have repeatedly failed to learn any lessons from the past, but I do understand that it is an emotional issue and you cannot knock being proud of who you are and where you come from.”
Cathy has only recently begun using a computer for writing:
“I have an office area set up at home with my computer and files, but I find I get more inspiration from writing by hand. I wrote my first novel, the majority of my second one, and most of my short stories by hand on the train journey to work, or in bed at night. It was quite an adjustment for me to try to put it straight onto the computer, but when the house is quiet and all I can hear are the words going around in my head, I am getting used to it. I still look forward to taking my notebook to bed and just letting my thoughts wander.”
I usually ask my subjects to tell me which writers they most admire but I already know from a previous interview she did with Millie Slavidou that she is a fan of David Mitchell and his book Cloud Atlas. What was it about that book and its author that so affected her?
“Cloud Atlas took the theme of reincarnation to a completely new level. It was a complex story in so many ways and I was blown away by the writing, the characters, the locations, the timelines. I read it a second time immediately after the first reading, and have watched the movie three times. I can say without hesitation that this will always be my favourite story. You ask what I would hope to learn from David Mitchell if I spent time with him? I am really not sure if it is possible to learn genius.”
To date Cathy has not used a professional editor:
“My background is proofreading of Cabinet and Ministerial briefings so I assumed I would be okay with the grammar and spelling components of writing. Obviously, that is not all that is needed in writing a novel. I was fortunate that a couple of people offered to read my first novel before publication and a friend who is a Scottish history expert read the second one. Thankfully they all picked up things I had missed and made very useful suggestions for which I was very grateful. It is all a learning curve and I hope to get some beta readers, and also a professional editor, for my new novel.
I think a first novel is very precious and there is always the fear that if you get someone else to read it they might come back and say it is awful. I am over that now and realise the benefit of having the opinion of others.”
Many independent authors find marketing the hardest part of the business of writing. Cathy has succeeded in getting her books stocked in the heritage sites that feature in them, something I’ve tried myself. I wondered what other marketing techniques she has found useful.
“For me, marketing is definitely the hardest part of the business. I am learning as I go. I am fortunate that Wilma, pushes me along. She took my Scottish novel There is a Place to the VisitScotland tourist shop in Aberfoyle, which is near the main location in the book, and asked them if they would consider stocking it because of the local interest.
As a result, they invited me to do a book signing when I was there last year. It was not as scary as I thought it would be. I am going home again next year and they said to let them know and they would arrange a signing for the new one.
I would also say that being part of the Indie Author Support & Discussion Facebook group has given me more confidence to put myself out there. The members share what they think works and what does not, and their support has helped me move outside my comfort zone. When I release my new novel, I will make sure I have a clear plan on how to market it.”
Cathy is currently working on her third novel and she revealed a little about it.
“Memories of the Night Sky is the story of Catriona, an author who begins to dream stories she feels compelled to write. It is set in Scotland in the present day, the 9th century and in 1307 and involves Druids, Knights Templar and forbidden love. I enjoyed being able to incorporate my interest in different spiritual traditions and pagan rituals.
I am working on the first edit at the moment and hope to have it ready to publish by the end of the year.”
I like to conclude my ‘dates’ by asking my subject to reveal something about themselves that might surprise their readers. Here’s Cathy:
“For decades I thought of joining a coven and training to become a witch – a white witch, of course. I have lived and worked in various places around Australia so I kept putting it off until I settled. When I did settle in Frankston I thought the time was right, but do you know how hard it is to find a coven? I thought they would be everywhere but alas, no. I am now in my sixties. I wonder if it is too late? Perhaps not.”