I've set up this blog so that all my friends, relations and colleagues in the world of writing can keep up to speed with what I'm doing - from now on, I'll never have to say sorry for not keeping in touch.

Or anyway, that's the plan.

So do please link up with me on Facebook and Twitter - https://www.facebook.com/margaret.james.5268 and https://twitter.com/majanovelist

You can find my novels as digital downloads on Apple iTunes, Kobo, Kindle and Nook, and most are available as print paperbacks, too.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Spookery and mystery and romantic suspense from Kirsty Ferry

Today, my special guest is Kirsty Ferry, whose intriguingly-titled novel Some Veil Did Fall is published this autumn by award-winning independent Choc Lit.

Welcome, Kirsty – come in, sit down and have a coffee and a cupcake? I bought chocolate, strawberry and vanilla today. Yes, like the ice cream and just as delicious.
Well thank you. Yes. I’ll have a chocolate one please. Oh, and a strawberry one. And go on, a vanilla one as well. It would be rude not to when you’ve gone to so much trouble, Margaret.

Your novel looks delicious, too – such a gorgeous shade of pink! Did you have any input when it came to designing the cover? What does it tell us about the novel?
I had no input at all – but I trust Berni Stevens implicitly. She does the majority of covers for Choc Lit and she’s also done two for my self-published ventures. It was a case of, go on, there’s the story, make it fabulous. And she has. The idea is that, because this is part one of a series, if I’m lucky enough to have the others accepted, the colours will be just as vibrant on those -  only we will have say a green one and then a blue one. I think it tells the reader that we’ve got a bright, shiny romantic story with a historical side to it.

We’ve never met face to face, so will you share a little background stuff with me? Do you come from a family of writers or are you the family maverick? When did you first decide you wanted to write fiction, and what drew you to romantic fiction in particular?
I am the family maverick. My family love to read but I’m the only one who writes. I’ve loved writing since I was a child but once my son was born in 2001 I had a break of several years. I took an Open University course when he was about six or seven which kick-started me into it again and I had soon placed most of the stories I’d written for the course into magazines and suchlike, then had a competition win which boosted my confidence no end. Some Veil Did Fall is actually an expansion of a short story I wrote for the course. I did 1,500 words about a girl who visits a stately home, seems to recognise the place somehow and eventually sees a portrait that looks like herself. I never tried to place that one anywhere as I knew I wanted to expand it, because the character had more to say to me. I’ve done non-fiction articles as well, but I love fiction as I feel you are truly creating something and can have your characters say and do stuff you’d never be brave enough to do in real life! Romantic fiction just “happened” with Veil. I’d never written a romance (well, apart from one disastrous thing that I hated) and much preferred ghost stories, paranormals and timeslips. Then I suddenly realised I could add some romance into the story. It just rounded the book off very nicely and gave it that extra element.

Some Veil Did Fall is the first novel in the Rossetti series of romantic mysteries. Please could you tell us a little about this first volume and give us a few hints about how you intend to develop the series? What can we expect in Volume 2?
Some Veil Did Fall is based on the premise of reincarnation and soulmates, which is in turn the concept of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s poem Sudden Light, the poem from which I filched the title of the book. The more I researched Rossetti and indeed the Pre Raphaelites, the more I developed an interest in them and I could see how I could do a linked series of books based on Rossetti poems. Becky and Jon weren’t content with the one book – they wanted to be in the next one too. And Lissy, Jon’s sister, shouted the loudest. So in book two, which is entitled The Other Ophelia, we have a new couple, Cori and Simon, who are introduced through Lissy’s volunteer work at the Tate Gallery and a mystery surrounding the famous Millais/Lizzie Siddal picture of Ophelia, a Victorian diary and a crazed nineteenth-century laudanum addict by the name of Daisy. That book is set three years after Veil, and then the third book, Sea Spell, is set yet another three years into the future. Sea Spell is based on the Rossetti poem of the same name and involves Lissy, her gorgeous Italian ex-boyfriend and a ruined house by the coast which harbours another secret – this time with reference to the Pre Raphaelite photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron. So we have poetry, paintings and photographs in the series. The characters are still shouting a little bit, and I have to say a couple of them have popped up unintentionally in my current work in progress – which was meant to be a stand alone!

Becky and Jonathon are the hero and heroine of Some Veil Did Fall. How did they develop as characters – did they appear in your mind as if by magic and say write about us? Or are they based on people you know in real life? Or…
They are completely fictional. Becky Version 1 was there first, as she appeared in the original short story, and then one day, Becky Version 2 was walking along the street and boom: there was Jon, carrying his cup of coffee and not paying very much attention to his surroundings. They developed as I wrote. Any writer will tell you that once they start keeping you awake at night you’re doing something right – and those two definitely did that to me. I had to have a notebook by the bed which was filled with nocturnal scribbling about the next step in the plot or the next twist to come. But they still kept at it after the book was done – which is why they became linked in the series.

Planner, vague outliner or planning phobic – when it comes to working out the storyline in a novel, who are you? I’m a planner, but I know some novelists refuse to plan!
I wing it. Totally and utterly. I have an idea of the start and an inkling of the ending, but it’s anybody’s guess what happens in the middle, and I do find that it’s quite an adventure. I love getting that lightbulb moment when you go ‘aha!’ and find yourself with a nifty twist you hadn’t even considered. I’d probably be more productive if I planned, but it’s not in my nature!

When you get that movie deal, who will play Becky and Jonathon?
Ohhhhh! Tough one. Alexandra Daddario who played Annabeth Chase in the Percy Jackson movies is a possibility for Becky and for Jon, perhaps Jamie Dornan. He’s got the right look, but after Fifty Shades he might find my book a bit tame!

Five quick questions:

  1. What your best time of day for writing?
If I’m in on my own, it’s after lunch until tea time, interspersed with lots of coffee trips to the kitchen and back. If the family is around, it’s bedtime. Not a chance otherwise!

  1. Who are your favourite romantic hero and heroine?
You see, I love Heathcliff and Cathy, but when you get down to it, despite the passion, Wuthering Heights was never actually a romance! But they had that spark and I’m still going to choose them, just to be rebellious.

  1. If you could interview any real historical figure, who would it be and why?
Emily Bronte. I would want to see what her inspiration was for Wuthering Heights and how she would feel if she knew that people still thought her book incredible after all these years. It’s actually a really complex book so I would like to discuss how she managed to pull that off when she led such an apparently sheltered life!

  1. Do you have any special non-writing ambitions?
Not really. I’ve just completed an Honours Degree in Literature and achieved a First, so that was a big ambition, but I think I just want my family and friends happy and healthy to be honest.

  1. Do you believe in ghosts?
Oh yes. My books are full of them and I love anything to do with them. I think I even had one in my last house, and my cousin definitely has one in hers!

Thank you, Kirsty it’s been great to talk to you!

And to you. Thank you for having me. Are you eating that last cupcake? Because I’ll take it off your hands if you want...

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Romantic novelist Isabella Connor chats about all things Irish and about being two people at once

Today, I shall be talking to the novelist Isabella Connor, who is actually two people who have never even met, but who somehow manage to write brilliant novels together.

So, ladies – do you wish to reveal your day-to-day identities, or shall we keep them a secret? I’m sure readers would love to know how you manage to write independently and still deliver a seamless story, so will you share a few secrets with us?  

We can reveal our identities, Margaret, but then we’ll have to kill everyone…

Isabella Connor is the pen name for Val Olteanu, who lives in Vancouver and is a teacher... 

...and Liv Thomas, who is on the south coast of England and works for the NHS.

A lot of people have said our work is seamless – this is probably because we take and write a chapter each (after compiling a structure) but we don’t leave it at that.  We then swap our work so the other can read it and suggest changes if necessary. Because of this, we’ve both grown thick skins when it comes to critique! There are times when we compromise and times when we dig our heels in and insist something stays as it is. It’s not always easy, but more often than not, we’re on the same page when it comes to developing the story.

Your first published novel was Beneath an Irish Sky. Who or what inspired the story? 

It was inspired some years ago, after seeing a TV series called “Sex Chips and Rock and Roll,” which starred Joe McFadden as a feisty young Irishman.  The character of Luke and the general story just presented itself. There was no ‘coming up with a plot’, no sitting at the PC chewing on a pencil.  It literally did just arrive unannounced.  And the characters all came ready-named too!

The follow-up to your first novel is An Irish Promise. Some authors find sequels are very difficult to write. Did you find it hard to continue your own story, or did everything flow and did you not have any problems? 

An Irish Promise is a stand-alone story, not a sequel, although there is one character from Beneath an Irish Sky in it – and probably not one you’d automatically think of.  There are some other similarities between the novels: both are set in villages, and show the effect on a small, tight-knit community when a stranger comes in and turns everything on its head, and both novels also deal with a different type of discrimination. We always know the ending of our novels before we start, so that does make the writing process much easier. There are quite a few plot twists in An Irish Promise – those were probably the most challenging to develop and write.

Do your own lives inspire your work in any way? 

Liv: Maybe not my own life, which would probably be as interesting as making a novel out of the phone book, but I do get ideas from things I read, or from what other people say.
Val: Indirectly, I think. For example, An Irish Promise focuses partly on bullying. I’m a teacher, so this is an issue that unfortunately schools often have to deal with. The incidents in the novel are fictional, but the motivations behind bullying and the effects that bullying can have – on the victim and the instigator - is something that I’ve become aware of through my job.

Your publisher, the award-winning independent Choc Lit, insists romantic heroes need to be irresistible. What combinations of qualities make your own heroes irresistible? 

A hero doesn’t need to be heroic.  The right qualities – such as kindness and a sense of humour - can make any man attractive. In Beneath an Irish Sky, Luke wasn’t a typical hero – slightly built, inexperienced, but very principled and very loyal. Finn in An Irish Promise is more of a conventional hero in the physical sense, but both characters are vulnerable and this is one quality that will probably always be present in our heroes, as we think a certain level of vulnerability in a man is appealing. Our heroes will always have flaws. Otherwise we’d have to change our genre to Fantasy! J In our books we generally have a heroine who is more than capable of looking after herself, not one depending on a man to be strong for her.

You live in different time zones. Do you manage to communicate effectively from day to day?

It’s not always easy, but email and the telephone are very useful. Well that’s an understatement. They’re imperative. We tend to catch up with each other by phone at the weekend, so we can resolve any issues.

Do you ever have such a thing as a typical writing day?

Liv: I rarely get the time to devote to writing without any interruptions, so maybe that’s typical for me.  I love Saturdays during the football season because my other half is generally out most of the day.
Val: I do try to write regularly – after work and at weekends. That means household chores often take a back seat to writing, and I try to ignore the sinkful of dishes and the piles of laundry as long as I can. 
Liv:  I don’t even notice those....

Five Quick Questions:

How did you feel when you got your first publishing deal?

Liv: Stunned. Ecstatic. Excited. I still am all those things.
Val: Over the moon. I phoned everyone I knew to tell them about it. Then the next day, I splashed out on an original piece of art – a lovely abstract of a garden in the rain. I justified it as one artist paying it forward to another.

What is particularly inspiring and appealing about all things Irish? 

Liv: Where do I start? It’s magical. The country, the people, the history, the charm…and the accent. If I was on a jury and the defendant was Irish, I’d be hard pushed to find him guilty!
Val: The Irish have a great sense of humour. Plus they’re friendly and great communicators. Those ingredients can make for very appealing fictional characters.

What’s next for Isabella Connor?

In the immediate future, working on promoting An Irish Promise, and there is at least one more ‘Irish’ novel in the pipeline.  We’ve had a lot of requests for a sequel to Beneath an Irish Sky, so that’s a possibility. 

When your fairy godmothers finally get round to visiting you, what will you ask them to do for you?

Liv: To have our ‘Irish’ novels turned into six-part TV series. J   
Val: And to be involved in the casting process, especially for our heroes!

What single piece of advice would you offer a novelist working towards commercial publication?

Liv: Write about what you know, and what you would like to read.
Val: If you’re writing romantic fiction, join the RNA New Writers’ Scheme. The critique is invaluable.

Thank you, ladies! 

Some links now:

Isabella Connor has a blog at: www.blog.isabellaconnor.com
Liv’s blog is at: http://livbet.webs.com/

Facebook has an Isabella Connor author page:  https://www.facebook.com/isabella.connor.hartswood.hill?ref=hl

Liv is on Twitter: @Livbet

You can find Isabella Connor’s books on Amazon: