Anne Bonny #BlogTour Q&A with @Carol4OliveFarm Carol Drinkwater #Author of The House On The Edge Of The Cliff #NewRelease #Historical #Thriller #Saga #France @PenguinUKBooks

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The House On The Edge Of The Cliff by Carol Drinkwater
Review To Follow

Synopsis ~

No one else knows what happened that summer. Or so she believes . . .

Grace first came to France a lifetime ago. Young and full of dreams of adventure, she met two very different men.

She fell under the spell of one. The other fell under hers.

Until one summer night shattered everything . . .

Now, Grace is living an idyllic life with her husband, sheltered from the world in a magnificent Provençal villa, perched atop a windswept cliff.

Every day she looks out over the sea – the only witness to that fateful night years ago.

Until a stranger arrives at the house. A stranger who knows everything, and won’t leave until he gets what he wants.

The past and present spectacularly collide in this gripping story of love and betrayal echoing across the decades.

Q&A ~

Q) For the readers, can you talk us through your background and the synopsis of your new novel?

A) I am Irish though born in London. I come from a theatrical family. My father was a musician, agent, entertainer. The stage was in my blood. I wanted to be an actress from the age of four, almost as soon as I could visualise the concept of my future. I also dreamed of being a writer. I was writing from the age of eight and was fortunate to have my first little story/anecdote published when I was ten. At drama school I wrote reams of background stories for all the characters I played. Throughout my professional life as an actress I kept diaries, travel journals, and wrote for magazines.

THE HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE CLIFF is set in the South of France close to Marseille in an area known as Les Calanques or The Creeks. It is national parkland, stunning beautiful, rather wild and with very dramatic scenery.
The earlier sections of the novel are set in Paris in the spring of 1968. The historically famous May ’68, which was the year of the student uprisings. It was a fabulous period in modern history, full of optimism and idealism. It was the same time as the marches worldwide against the Vietnam War. The popular music was amazing: Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Mamas and Papas, Bob Marley … many others. My novel is full of this music, enriched, I hope, by the dreams of the young. Dreams, disappointments, first love, sexual awakening … the rites of passage journey from teenager to a young woman and then that same woman’s life at a later stage when the mistakes from her past come back to haunt her.

Q) Can you talk us through the journey from idea, to writing and finally to publication?

A) I wanted to write a story that has a menacing thread to it. Life threatened. A past error that returns to haunt, Grace, my principal character. A secret carried for half a lifetime. And I wanted to locate the story somewhere dramatic, spectacular with high cliffs, commanding seas, long stretches of beach, boulders, boats. An environment where the weather rules and ‘accidents’ can happen. A strip of land and sea where tragedies can be buried, can lay undiscovered for decades.

I also wanted to set the earlier part of Grace’s story against a period of time, modern history, that was evocative and inspiring.

Q) What are your favourite authors and recommended reads?

A) I am a great fan of Isabel Allende, Grahame Greene, Marguerite Duras. Daphne Du Maurier, Somerset Maugham.

I would recommend almost everything each of them has written.

Q) What were your childhood/teenage favourite reads?

A) I loved the Just William books and got into trouble at school for reading them because our English Lit teacher judged them ‘not sufficiently literary’ but read them again and you will find a wonderful window into a slice of English society and its time. And Richmal Crompton’s ability to create richly comic characters and situations is memorable.

The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley was another great favourite of mine. Macmillan have published a recent edition HERE.

All of Dickens, of course.

Q) What are you currently reading? 

A) I am currently RE-reading The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler.

Of all the books I have recently read, I can highly recommend: the new William Boyd, Love is Blind. Sally Rooney’s Normal People. David Nicholls’ Sweet Sorrow to be published in July, David Park’s Travelling in a Strange Land.

I am a great fan of top quality thriller and suspense writers such Le Carré, Ambler, Greene. These authors are so precise in their storytelling, disciplined. They are also very clever at weaving in social and modern history.

Q) What has been your favourite moment of being a published author?

A) Seeing The Olive Farm, the first of my series of six Olive Farm books soar into the Sunday Times bestseller list. These books spent weeks there and I used to spend hours looking at the newspaper to convince myself it was all true.

Q) Who has been your source of support/encouragement, throughout the writing process?

A) This is never the job of one person. There have been several who have been an encouragement for me. My husband, Michel, comes first because from the beginning he encouraged me to believe I could go professional with my writing. Throughout my career I have had several editors. They changed according to the genre of books I was writing or whether they were for the Young Adult market or commercial fiction or memoirs (The Olive Farm series are memoirs). Alan Samson, who was my non-fiction editor and is now the chairman of W & N, taught me an immense amount about the art of storytelling and being in touch with one’s readers. Alf Wight, who is the real man behind the James Herriot books also helped me. I spent so long filming All Creatures Great and Small that I had plenty of time to ask myself what it was about the books and material that made the stories so successful. Alf Wight had such a gift for welcoming his readers into his world and never talking down to them.

Perhaps the most important inspiration of all are the writers I have read. Reading, reading, reading is the best method of learning to write.

CD
Carol Drinkwater
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Anne Bonny #BlogTour Q&A with #Author of, Tell Me Where You Are @moira_forsyth @sandstonepress #NewRelease #Fiction #FamilyLife #TellMe

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Tell Me Where You Are by Moira Forsyth

Synopsis ~

Frances is doing fine; she has her life sorted. Then comes the phone call from Alec, the husband who left her for her younger sister Susan, thirteen years ago. Susan has disappeared, and Alec wants her daughter Kate to come and stay with Frances, out of harm’s way. Meanwhile, Frances’s youngest sister, Gillian, finds that two months after ending her relationship with a married man, she is pregnant. While all this is going on another crisis is looming. It’s been a family full of secrets. Frances and Gillian haven’t even managed to tell their parents Susan is missing. After all, she’s left unacknowledged thirteen years of birthday and Christmas presents for Kate, the granddaughter they never saw. She was the one who made sure she could never be forgiven, and now there’s another secret. It’s not always the things you fear most, which matter in the end.

Q&A ~

Q) For the readers, can you talk us through your background and the synopsis of your new novel?

A) This novel started with a dream about the turkey we were to have for Christmas dinner. The bizarre dream Frances has at the beginning of the novel is a more detailed version of one I woke from myself, slightly shaken and glad I no longer ate meat, though I was cooking it for everyone else! The dream was too good to waste – which is what I often think when something happens that quite quickly turns itself into fiction in my imagination.

The novel is about three sisters and what happens when the middle one, who has always been trouble, disappears, leaving Frances, her older sister, with her teenage daughter Kate. Kate is in trouble, but no one realises that until it’s too late… The novel is set mainly in the Highlands, where Frances now lives, with significant scenes in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Newcastle. I can’t get on with a new novel until I’ve decided where the characters live. I know authors who can write vividly about places they’ve never been, but I’d find that difficult. For me, the sense of place is bound up closely with the people, and I want to be sure I can make that convincing.

Q) Can you talk us through the journey from idea to writing to publication?

A) This novel has had a longer journey than most. When Waiting for Lindsay, my first novel, was accepted, Sceptre gave me a two-book deal, which I fulfilled with my second, David’s Sisters. After that, my agent turned down my next novel, which I suspect he had discussed with Sceptre. My sales weren’t high enough for them to offer on that one. I wrote another, but by then the agent had thrown in the towel. That novel, an earlier version of Tell Me Where You Are, went to the back of the drawer with my other unpublished work. (A much larger drawer than the published one!)

My life was then taken up with developing Sandstone Press, of which I’m a founding director. For several years Sandstone published only non-fiction, then in 2010 it was decided we’d try fiction. Tell Me Where You Are was one of the early novels published, because Robert thought it merited that. He carried out a stern edit on it – and when I’d stopped sulking I made all the changes he had suggested – he was right. However, though we were very good editors at Sandstone, we were still learning to be publishers, and the novel pretty well sank without trace. We do better for our authors now!

It’s worth new authors noting that larger publishers often drop authors in this way. I know a number of superb writers who have been ‘let go’ by corporate publishers.
Because of the success of my two subsequent novels, The Treacle Well and A Message from the Other Side, Robert decided my previous novels should all be reissued, starting with Tell Me Where You Are. So here it is, with a beautiful new cover.

Q) What are your favourite authors and recommended reads?

A) Being an editor, and to some extent, being a writer, wrecks your private reading. For bedtime I have crime thrillers on my kindle, for holidays and other times I love literary biographies (I’m reading the first biography of Scott Fitzgerald just now, by Andrew Turnbull, who knew him well), and also re-reading authors I’ve always loved and return to every few years, such as Elizabeth Taylor, Elizabeth Bowen, EM Forster, Alice Munro and George Eliot – Middlemarch is still, for me, the quintessential novel, the best.

Q) What were your childhood/teenage favourite reads?

A) As a child I read everything I could get my hands on. Not allowed to ‘read at the table’ I read everywhere else, though at mealtimes I was restricted to the back of the Shreddies packet and the HP sauce bottle (some of which, in French, I can still quote Cette sauce de haute qualité est un melange d’épices….). I read Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass over and over, as a little girl, and later devoured all of Enid Blyton’s school stories. My parents often gave me their library tickets to supplement my own, I read so fast and so voraciously. The first time I really understood what writing can do, to draw you into another world, was when I happened on Philippa Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden, which I still think one of the finest children’s novels ever written. As a teenager I read all Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances, but also the Brontes, Thackery, George Eliot and other classics. As a student I read John Fowles’s The Magus with the same absorption and utter belief in its world. That one hasn’t stood the test of time quite as much!

Q) What has been your favourite moment of being a published author?

A) It’s a magical moment when you open the parcel and see your new novel for the first time. When my first, Waiting for Lindsay, was published by Sceptre in 1999, I sat in my little upstairs living-room, in the first house I’d ever had of my own, holding it and unable to believe that at last, this had really happened. I’d had a bad few years, with my marriage breaking up and having to find a new job and manage on my own, but that was a moment of pure happiness.

Q) Who has been your source of support/encouragement, throughout the writing process?

A) My partner in life and at work, Robert Davidson, has supported me all the way through. He’s my editor and critic, and takes a huge pride in my achievements. My children have also been wonderful. Sadly my mother had become ill by the time my first novel was published, and was unable to enjoy it as she would have done in earlier years. My father though, who died in 2012, was an indefatigable supporter and would get my books off the library shelves and hand them to other readers, telling them, ‘My daughter wrote this – it’s very good’. He also rearranged books in bookshops, facing mine out so that they were more easily seen. After his death, I discovered he had kept a full and detailed folder with cuttings of my reviews and every bit of publicity I’d ever had.

Moira_Forsyth_2
Moira Forsyth
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Link to the book available via Sandstone Press

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Anne Bonny #BlogTour Q&A with @OConnellauthor #Author of The Last Night Out #Psychological #Thriller #NewRelease @blackthornbks

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The Last Night Out by Catherine O’Connell
Review To Follow

Synopsis ~

Six friends. Three secrets. One murder.

Maggie is set to marry the man of her dreams. Desperate for one wild last night out on the town before her big day, she gathers her closest girlfriends to hit the bars and party until dawn.

Only things go wrong – horribly wrong.

When Angie’s body is found in the park the following morning, their night to remember quickly becomes a nightmare they all wish they could forget. Under police scrutiny, how far will Maggie and her friends go to keep their secrets? Far enough to protect a killer?

Q&A ~

Q) For the readers, can you talk us through your background and the synopsis of your new novel?

A) I’m a writer and I’ve been a writer since I was a kid. I’ve always had an overactive imagination, and would take that imagination to the page while I was in grammar school, writing short stories that the teacher would read to the class. I continued writing throughout my youth, writing sketches and more short stories, keeping journals that to this day can take me back to the inner workings of a teenager.

Having the goal of being a writer, I majored in Journalism at the University of Colorado. But by the time I graduated, I felt like journalistic writing was far too dry and restrictive for my goals. I really wanted to recognize my dream of being a novelist and the creativity of fiction versus reality. So I embarked on all kinds of adventures thinking that the more experiences I collected the more fodder I’d have for novels. I backpacked Europe and then lived for a couple of years as a ski bum in Aspen, working as a hotel maid and receptionist. Then I returned to my hometown of Chicago and worked as a waitress and a bar manager on Rush Street, floor runner at the Chicago Board of Trade, and a sales rep for a fine wine company. All through that time period I had countless ideas for books and started dozens of novels that never got much farther than ten or twenty pages.

It wasn’t until I the 90s that I finally committed myself to the work required to take it a step further. Doing what all authors need to do, I put my bottom down on a chair and started writing. I finished one novel, sent it out to an agent, but it never sold. I finished writing another book shortly thereafter and that one did sell, becoming Skins (Donald I Fine) in 1993. After that, I published a pair of high society mysteries, Well Bred and Dead and Well Read and Dead, inspired by questionable circumstances and multiple birth certificates surrounding the death of a friend.

My current book, The Last Night Out draws upon my life experiences as well. I worked as a bartender in Rush Street Chicago in the late 1980s. The scene was pretty wild back then and just when I thought I’d seen everything, someone would take things a step further. Then, in the late 90s, my husband and I started a nightclub tour business called The Party Bus. As things turned out, our primary customers were young women having bachelorette parties. If I thought I saw some crazy things as a bartender, well, those bachelorettes took it up a notch.

Coincidentally, the first novel I’d written and never gotten published was about a women getting drunk at her bachelorette party and one of her friends ending up dead. Inspired by the bachelorettes on The Party Bus, I decided to pull out that manuscript and rework it and, voila, The Last Night Out was born.

I want to add that getting published isn’t a direct line to literary success. I have more than a few dusty unpublished manuscripts occupying a safe place in the closet under my stairs. But if you’re a writer, you just keep on writing. It’s kind of like being an alcoholic—either you’re practicing or your not.

The Last Night Out is the story of six high school friends who come together in Chicago’s northern suburbs to celebrate Maggie Trueheart’s upcoming wedding. The party moves downtown to Rush Street where the girls drink into the wee hours of the night. The next morning Maggie awakes to find a stranger in her bed. If that’s not bad enough, a phone call brings the horrifying news that her friend Angie, one of the party-goers, has been murdered.

Afraid her fiancé might learn about her infidelity, Maggie lies to the detectives assigned to Angie’s case, trapping herself into a series of lies that become more and more convoluted as the search for Angie’s killer continues. And while Maggie is caught in her own fabric of lies, little does she know the rest of the girls have lies of their own, all of the lies in some way connected to Angie’s murder. Unbeknownst to them, one of the lies has put another one of them in the killer’s sights.

Q) Can you talk us through the journey from idea, to writing and finally to publication?

A) It’s my belief that the writing process is different for every writer. There’s no template for creating a book. Some writers make extensive outlines, some just start blind, some know where they’re going, some have no idea. I’m telling you this because I think that readers often think that there is something orderly in creating a book, and I’m the first person to tell you, there is not. The only thing all writers have in common is that they have to sit down and put that story on the page by somehow pulling it out of their head and putting it on paper. Which, I might add, can often be quite painful.

When I start writing a new book, I’m pretty much set on the beginning and the end. What’s left is to fill in everything in between and hope it matches up. I do write a rough synopsis as a sort of map, but I usually veer from that synopsis fairly quickly as my brain leads me in a different directions once I get into the story.

The bottom line for me is to just start writing. Rule #1 for me. Right after coffee in the morning. Otherwise I might get sidetracked into doing something important like cleaning the bathroom. The rough draft is the hardest. It’s kind of like pulling your brain out your ear with a tweezers. I try for five pages, around 1000 words, a day, but sometimes only come up with one. When I get really stuck I grab a yellow pad and paper and sit in a corner or go outside. The goal is to push the story forward. And though I have a pretty good idea who my characters are, guess what? They change along the way. But rather than go back and make everything consistent, I plod towards the end of the book. The idea is to get the story down. I know I can always go back and fix things later. The old writer’s axiom is, you can fix a blank page, but you can’t fix an empty one.

Once the story is finished, for me the heavy lifting is over. It’s like going through the pain of building a house, and now it’s time to decorate. Early in my writing career, I discovered if I kept going back to make the first ten pages perfect, I’d never get to the other 290. Rewrite’s the time to do that, to fix uneven plot points, to embellish descriptions, to sharpen dialogue. My first rewrite is pretty substantial, fixing up sloppy language and getting times and places match up. And my character’s appearances! You can’t believe how many time I’ve changed a character’s appearance or background or even their name in the rough draft and have to make it all jibe. Then there’s a second rewrite and then a third, each time with less needing polish. It’s during the fourth rewrite when I start to feel it’s all matching up and it’s time to say ‘enough’ before I ruin anything!

My agent is the first person to read my manuscript. I’ve already run the story idea past her, but after that I don’t send her anything until I’m basically finished. That’s because my first draft is such a mess no one would ever believe it could be a book. Once I send my agent the completed and polished manuscript, she gives it a careful read, does some editing, and points out things that might need to be clarified. I’m proud to say there usually isn’t much that needs changing at that point, and when she OKs it I breathe a sigh of relief.

Q) What are your favourite authors and recommended reads?

A) I love Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna being one of my favourite books. Geraldine Brooks is another favourite, both March and The Year of Wonders high up on my list. I’ve been reading a lot of fiction about World War I and II and Kate Atchinson’s Life After Life and A God in Ruins were amazing. Ian Mc Kewen’s Atonement blew me away, and if you want to get a good understanding of the horror of World War I, Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks is required reading.

I love Nelson DeMille’s edgy tough guy characters, The Gold Coast another one of my all time favorites.
Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose.

I tend not to read in my genre when I’m working on a book because it influences my writing, but when I’m not writing I love falling into mysteries by P.D. James, Dick Francis, Dennis Lehane, Thomas Cook, and Donna Leon. One of my favourites early on was Raymond Chandler for his great plots and sharp dialogue.

Q) What were your childhood/teenage favourite reads?

Q) I guess I have to start with the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew, books for young American readers. They inspired in me this amazing desire to read which then morphed into me wanting to tell stories of my own. As I grew older and my thirst for reading grew, I branched out into historical fiction. My favourite books were Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Hawaii by James Michener, Exodus by Leon Uris and the Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I used to feel that if a book wasn’t at least 800 pages, it wasn’t worth picking up.

Q) What are you currently reading?

A) Just finished Eleanor Oliphant is Perfectly Fine by Gail Honeyman and loved it. Next up is Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I’ve heard so many good things about it I have to read it.

Q) What has been your favourite moment of being a published author?

A) Seeing my book in print. There’s a sense of validation in having your work published that can not be described.

Q) Who has been your source of support/encouragement, throughout the writing process?

A) My husband has always been a source of invaluable support and encouragement. Every time I’ve felt like quitting, he says, “You got this far. Why quit now?”
And my friends. They have always told me I could make it. Especially my friend, Luky, who kept me going by saying, “If you throw enough of you know what against the wall, some of it’s going to stick.” It’s crazy stuff like that that keeps you going.

COC
Catherine O’Connell
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Anne Bonny Q&A with #Author of The Savage Shore @david_hewson #NicCosta #Series #CrimeFiction #ItalianMafia #Italy @blackthornbks #TheSavageShore @midaspr

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The Savage Shore by David Hewson
Review To Follow

Synopsis ~

The ‘Ndrangheta is a ruthless mafia organisation, one of the richest and most powerful organised crime groups in the world. Completely impenetrable to outsiders, merciless when crossed, they run the savage Calabrian coast of Italy, their influence everywhere. So why has the head of this feared mob, Lo Spettro, offered to turn state witness?

Detective Nic Costa is sent deep into the mountains to infiltrate this mafia family, with Lo Spettro’s help. With a new identity, Nic becomes one of their own. But one slip up would mean the end not just for the investigation, but for Nic, and his whole team.

Q&A ~

Q) For the readers, can you talk us through your background and the synopsis of your new novel?

A) I’ve been an author for more than twenty five years now, with thirty books or so (you stop counting after a while) to my name. The Savage Shore is a new instalment in a story that started nearly twenty years ago with A Season for the Dead which introduced a young detective called Nic Costa, working with a state police team in the historic centre of Rome. Over the years Nic’s spent most of his time on stories based in Rome, with occasional diversions to Venice and beyond.

When I decided to bring the old crew back, though, I decided to throw a spanner in the works. Usually they’re kings of a castle they know and control very well: Rome. But here they’re strangers in a strange land, sent to Calabria in the south of Italy where they’re meant to organise the defection of a gang lord into police custody so he can turn state witness.

The problem is no one knows who the gang lord is, how they can find him, how they can extricate him and his family safely out of a gang that would surely murder them all if they knew what was going on. To make contact Nic has to go undercover and pretend he’s part of the crime clan, and the rest of the team have to wait under false identities on the coast.

Pretty soon it appears nothing, in the fabled land of Calabria, is really what it seems.

Q) Can you talk us through the journey from idea, to writing and finally to publication?

A) I tend to be very logical about these things and decide some key issued to begin with. The first here was location: I knew it wasn’t going to be in Rome, and I was very interested in Calabria as a backdrop. It’s got an amazing culture and history of its own – not just Italian but ancient Greece as well. And it’s the home of a crime gang which is huge and very powerful, the ’Ndrangheta.

After the location came the style of the narrative. As I said I wanted Nic and co to be strangers in a strange land. So I hit upon the idea of making them become almost criminals themselves, having to hide their true identities, which isn’t easy given they’re decent people who don’t like to keep things secret.

Another element of the book is that each section of the story is preceded by a brief extract from a fictional tourist guide to the area. This gives the readers some context to the story, but also, as the narrative proceeds, we begin to realise that this device is also part of the main story too.

Then I needed an opening which came when I was driving round Reggio, the capital of Calabria. I invented a bar for crooks, an illegal immigrant forced to work behind it, and a monkey with a taste for drink. Then in walk some people with guns…

Q) What are your favourite authors and recommended reads?

A) That’s always a tough one to answer. I’m reluctant to name living rime authors because you always leave out someone you should have mentioned and the likelihood is they’re going to notice. So… current authors of non-fiction, Mary Beard for her great work on Rome, the history books of Tom Holland. Dead authors: Robert Graves, Mario Puzo, Mary Renault.

I, Claudius is one of my favourite books, something I reread from time to time for the beautiful simplicity of its writing and structure, and the timeless nature of the story it tells: a decent man becomes the monster he loathes.

Q) What were your childhood/teenage favourite reads?

A) Anything I could lay my hands on in my local library: Ray Bradbury, lots and lots of science fiction by people whose names escape me now, Conan Doyle, Saki, HP Lovecraft…

Q) What are you currently reading?

A) The Garden of the Finzi-Continis by Giorgio Bassani, a story about the Jewish community in Ferrara just before the start of the Second World War. A very unusual book that’s both an emotional story of failed loved but also darkened by the coming of fascism to people who’ve no idea the world is changing.

Q) What has been your favourite moment of being a published author?

A) My favourite moment is always the one when you know a book is finished – edited, revised, done.

Q) Who has been your source of support/encouragement, throughout the writing process?

A) You always rely on the advice and support of agent and your editors. Without them we’d never be able to achieve a thing. Writers are lone wolves but we need to connect with the flock too. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve worked with some of the best over the years.

DH
David Hewson
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Anne Bonny Q&A with #Author of I Spy Bletchley Park George Stratford #ww2Fiction #HistoricalFiction #Indie

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I Spy Bletchley Park by George Stratford

Synopsis ~

BLETCHLEY PARK IN PERIL : Deeply embittered by the government’s seizure of her financially ruined father’s Buckinghamshire estate, Lady Margaret Pugh swears revenge on all those in Westminster. With World War II looming, Hermann Goering then makes her an irresistible offer if she will agree to spy for him. Before long, the many curious comings and goings at nearby Bletchley Park capture Margaret’s attention. And as she starts putting all of the pieces together, so Britain’s most vital war secret becomes increasingly in peril of a devastating bombing raid. In response to this suspected threat, a young working-class WAAF is thrust untrained into the world of counter-espionage. Thanks to a prodigious musical talent, Betty Hall is uniquely placed to infiltrate Margaret’s private life. But matters suddenly escalate, and the fate of Bletchley Park soon hangs entirely on Betty becoming ever more deeply and dangerously involved. With countless lives at stake, two most determined women find themselves fighting a very private war.

Q&A:

Q) For the readers, can you talk us through your background and the synopsis of your new novel?

A) Some time ago I wrote a fictional tribute (BURIED PASTS) to my Canadian father who was a pilot with RAF Bomber Command. He was killed whilst on his 28th mission when I was just six weeks old. That proved to be very cathartic, so for my new novel I decided that I should pay the same kind of literary tribute to my mother, who served as a WAAF at Bletchley Park for two years during WWII. I SPY BLETCHLEY PARK is the result.
A great deal has been written and filmed about BP, but with a theme almost always centring on the codebreakers themselves. Given the priceless nature of their work, this is perfectly understandable. At the same time, there were huge numbers of less featured people (mostly female) providing priceless support to the ‘stars of the show’, especially the WAAFs and WRENs stationed there. Surely, I reasoned, it was time for a compelling story to be written featuring one of these in a heroic role.
Step forward Mum, or in this case, my fictional WAAF Betty Hall.

Q) Can you talk us through the journey from idea to writing to publication?

A) With my main protagonist already in place, the next thing I needed was of course someone to provide the opposition and conflict. In this case, a spy threatening to expose the secret of Bletchley Park to the enemy. That gave birth to Lady Margaret Pugh.
I’m very much a ‘pantster’ when it comes to writing novels, and in the process of creating Margaret, I soon found her taking over the vast majority of the opening chapters. “Hey, move aside. This is Betty’s novel,” I was tempted to shout on several occasions, but I allowed her to have her head anyway. And I’m so glad I did. There’s something uniquely fascinating about putting together a well fleshed out baddie. Especially when they are many long streets away from being all bad. In fact, as the story building process accelerated from a canter into a full-on gallop to the finishing post, I found that I had a far blacker villain in Richard Forest/Forst for readers to boo and hiss at.

As for research, following a visit to the current Bletchley Park site, I was fortunate enough to encounter John Bladen, one of the dedicated volunteers regularly working there. Via telephone conversations and emails, he then continued to supply me with a host of invaluable information and advice on numerous matters of detail. Every question I threw at him was answered in full, and nothing was ever too much trouble. I owe him an enormous debt of gratitude.

During the writing, I sent files of two or three chapters at a time to people I know to gauge their reaction. Their feedback proved highly useful, especially remarks concerning female psyche. Ruth Maxwell Greenwood was especially helpful in this area. With the novel finally completed, I then sent PDFs of the full story to people who I knew for certain would be brutally truthful in their opinion. No polishing of egos from these guys. Good reviews from those who just want to be kind, although well intentioned, would have been no help at all at this stage.

With a big thumbs-up from 95% of the selected ‘brutal ones’, I then jumped aboard the same old agent submission trail yet again. But this time bursting with confidence. This novel, I felt certain, had everything that these self-appointed gatekeepers to publishing’s Chosen Land could wish for. Indeed, one very major agency stated quite openly that I SPY BLETCHLEY PARK indeed ‘stood out’ from the many they receive. I take it they meant this in a favourable way. That said, no request for further reading was made. The same could be said for the dozen or so others I approached as well.

In a slightly ironic twist, my mother used to type all of the manuscripts for prolific best-selling author John Creasy way back in the 1950s and 60s. Mr Creasy collected an acknowledged world record of 743 rejection slips before going on to publish nearly 600 books under 25 pseudonyms and achieve worldwide sales in excess of 80 million. Oh yes, and he also founded the renowned British Crime Writers Association. That’s true inspiration! That’s why, even at 75 years old and after literally decades of agent rejections, it’s still my mission in life to keep battering away in an attempt to break down those traditional publishing walls. Meanwhile, my current books can continue doing the talking for me as KDP releases. Whatever else you may think of Amazon and their self-published titles, at least they have provided readers with the opportunity to judge each work put out there for themselves and comment publicly on it.

One thing is for certain. Seeing those five-star reviews against your novel and knowing that those readers have thoroughly enjoyed it is by far the most rewarding feeling of all. Even if the lit agents don’t agree with them.

Q) What are your favourite authors and recommended reads?

A) There are many authors I’ve enjoyed spending some time with, but Ken Follett and Stephen King are the two that I currently look forward to sitting down with most of all. Thank goodness they are both prolific.

Ken Follet’s historical novels, be they set during WWII or way back in the Middle Ages, are always a great read. And so well researched as well. The Kingsbridge series starting with PILLARS OF THE EARTH is a fine example of the latter, while THE EYE OF THE NEEDLE is WWII fiction at its very best. In a more modern era, THE HAMMER OF EDEN is one of my favourites. If my own writing style has subconsciously been influenced by anyone, it is most probably Mr Follett.

As for Stephen King, my opinion that he was largely a writer of supernatural and horror stories was absolutely blown away when I first read his 2012 work, MR MERCEDES. Although still written in his own easily identifiable style, this is pure crime and detective fiction. So too is the second book in the trilogy featuring retired detective Bill Hodges, FINDERS KEEPERS. Only in the concluding novel, END OF WATCH, does the theme stray back slightly into Mr King’s previously established ground. And even then, it seems to fit in seamlessly.

Q) What were your childhood/teenage favourite reads?

A) After moving on from the usual comics of the time such as the Eagle and the Hotspur, I soon became an enormous fan of the JUST WILLIAM books. For me, Richmal Crompton captured perfectly the essence of a spirited 11 year-old boy of the time. No real electronic gadgets for William or the other kids of that era; entertainment was nearly all in the imagination. Master Brown could quite easily manufacture an invisibility cloak out of an old sheet, or perhaps a futuristic ray gun that turned people into blancmange from a stick and a couple of empty tin cans.

I was at first absolutely astonished when I discovered that the author was in fact a woman. How could Miss Crompton possibly have such a deep understanding of what made William tick? I wondered. How was she able to make him so utterly believable? Only later did I fully realise that, apart from a huge dollop of writing talent, the answer almost certainly lay in an ever-alert eye and ear whenever in the company of young ones. Or to give it another name, plain old-fashioned research.

Q) What has been your favourite moment of being a published author?

A) My first published novel was a paperback titled IN THE LONG RUN. It was released by Citron Press in 2000, when I was working as a copywriter at Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising in Charlotte Street, London.

The International Chairman of Saatchi at that time, Alan Bishop, so enjoyed the novel that he arranged a launch party for me at the company’s in-house pub, the Pregnant Man. Former world record holder for the mile and current BBC athletics presenter, Steve Cram, was sent an advance copy and he too was enthusiastic. So much so, he offered to write a foreword for the book, and agreed to be guest of honour at the official launch.
It was a truly magical evening, packed to the rafters and with many old friends from my days back in Bournemouth coming up to attend. The novel very quickly went on to sell like those often-cited hot cakes. It was sitting solidly at number one in Citron’s best-selling list, and I was able to walk in and see it sitting on the shelves of Europe’s largest book store, Waterstones in Piccadilly. I was indeed living in my own little dream world for a short time.

The news that Citron Press had gone into liquidation burst my bubble big-time. Worse still, after the main creditors had been paid, there would be no royalties for any of the company’s authors.

Yup! What goes up certainly does come crashing back down again. But nobody can take away from me that magical evening in the Pregnant Man. It will live with me for the rest of my life. I can never thank Alan Bishop enough for that. You are a true gentleman, sir.

Q) Who has been your source of support/encouragement, throughout the writing process?

A) No one individual had been with me throughout. A good number of years ago when I was still trying to get IN THE LONG RUN published, I did meet up with Frederick E Smith (author of the 633 SQUADRON novels) two or three times at his house. He was extremely kind and helpful, especially as I had just knocked on his door out of the blue like a cold calling salesman on the first visit. He even provided me with tea and biscuits.
Another fine gentleman, to be sure.

Other than that, I think I should refer you back to the second question here. Although we never actually met, John Creasy and his sheer determination to fulfil his dream of becoming a best-selling author is still a constant source of encouragement. Mum spoke of him quite often, and I feel like I almost knew him well. In a final strange twist, Mr Creasy died on June the 9th – the same date as my birthday.

Me kindle scout pic
George Stratford
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