Archive for the ‘Friday Guest’ Category

SUE'S COVERI was initially surprised when I heard that two of my talented online friends, Bee and Mark, were to collaborate on a novel, as I knew them both to be strong-willed with very definite opinions about almost everything. However, as I watched the partnership and the characters develop, I realised the adversaries they were writing actually benefitted from their occasional confrontations and the result is a very different and satisfying thriller with two strong voices. I am proud to have had a small input as a beta reader and look forward to the sequel and the thrills and spills I know will be forthcoming, both on and off the page!

Now that Kill Them Twice is published and the dust has settled, I thought it would be fun to hear their candid answers to some questions about the experience.

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Q – How did the collaboration come about and have either of you done anything similar before?

Bee – Mark and I have critiqued and edited each other’s work for quite some time. We have very similar opinions on what makes a book really work. When I sent him the two opening chapters of Kill Them Twice – first person voice of the protagonist and third person voice of the antagonist – I mentioned how although I thought I’d made a pretty good fist of the latter I’d found it hard going. Alice, aka Halo, may be a killer with an unusual moral code but she is great fun to write and at that time fun was what I was looking for. When Mark said he’d be interested in taking on the evil angst of Shard I was keen to give it a go. In the past I have co-authored non-fiction and biographies but collaborating on a novel is very different.

Mark – I’m a strong believer in learning from constructive criticism and have benefited from both online and face-to-face critique groups over the past few years. Bee impressed me with her incisive approach and I knew she could flat out write. Her suggestion that I might pick up the voice of Shard in Kill Them Twice sufficiently flattered me into taking the bait. I’d never co-written a novel before.

Q How exactly did the process of co-authoring work?

Bee – You can’t write a novel by committee. The Kill Them Twice concept and characters were mine so I steered the ship. Obviously as we progressed there was much discussion about exactly where we were going and in general we arrived at mutually acceptable decisions. We began by taking it in turns to write our chapters but this proved to be a frustratingly slow process so instead we established what needed to be covered, wrote simultaneously and then cleared up any overlaps or gaps before moving on.

Mark – It was an interesting experience for me to play Elizabeth Swann to Bee’s Jack Sparrow as she captained the plot through the Seven Seas. I’m used to being at the helm and I’ve had a problem with authority figures throughout my half-century. Also I’m a “pantser” and don’t like to work to a well-defined plot line as I find it can stymie creativity. Our ping-pong of chapter by chapter edits was very enlightening. It soon reached an equilibrium where we could each anticipate the parts the other would have problems with, and sometimes we set a booby trap or two just to test each other. Bee has a small network of high quality beta readers and they were drip-fed each chapter too, resulting in a work-in-progress so shiny we could see our faces in it. John Goldsmith was one of those beta readers and his review of Kill Them Twice reflects the high level of enthusiasm that we enjoyed in the process.

Q – Did it go smoothly?

Bee – No, not all the time. Expecting it to would have been unrealistic. I think I can safely say there were times when we wanted to kill each other. Twice.

Mark – Yes, it went very smoothly all the time. Whatever Bee says, I’m the one who should be believed. Okay, the truth. We actually became our characters, Halo and Shard. Bee attempted to snipe at me from a safe distance. I was always trying to lure her into the danger zone for deadly hand-to-hand combat (or at least an arm wrestle). It was particularly difficult in chapters where my impulsive creativity had gone beyond the brief and pushed the good ship Kill Them Twice off-course. Bee was the one holding the map and I only managed the occasional glance at it, in-between me – I mean, Shard – brutally murdering his victims. So I did tend to digress and sometimes had to be escorted back into charted territory. But we’re both still alive, which is something I suppose.

Q – What were the positives and negatives of your collaboration?

Bee – Overall it was a positive experience so I’ll get the few negatives out of the way first. I write full time and have no children. Mark has a ‘proper’ job in senior management plus two school-age children. I failed to accurately factor in the extent to which these commitments would impact on the time available for our project. I rather think he did too. I knew from the outset exactly the tone I wanted for the book but it took some time to convey this to Mark resulting – at least early on – in me regularly bouncing his chapters back to him which, not surprisingly, didn’t always go down well. So for me the downside was frustratingly slow progress and achieving a shared vision.

Writing can be a lonely business so having someone equally involved and enthusiastic about the project is a big plus. When we hit problems with issues such as plot holes and logistics two minds were definitely better than one, and the resulting brainstorming often provided new and exciting ways forward. Then there were the lovely moments when Mark’s chapter arrived and he’d introduced a great new angle to the plot or insight into his character.

Finally, being a lazy person it’s much less daunting only having to write half a book!

Mark – The biggest negative for me was that I only had a limited amount of creative writing energy, and Kill Them Twice absorbed all that for a considerable time. Bee didn’t always appreciate or accept the constraints of my day job and family life, and I wasn’t going to compromise on the many hours that I invest in my beloved karate (as it keeps me sane). I didn’t produce any other writing under my pen name for the duration and I neglected the readership I had built. It was a struggle initially to find the Shard voice that Bee was looking for and some of that early back and forth on edits was quite excruciating. Writing to someone else’s prescription can be a strange experience. Sometimes several days are invested in a chapter only for it to end up rejected. Other times a few furious hours’ work can hit the spot first time.

On the positive side, the entire experience has greatly improved the standard of my writing. Before Kill Them Twice I was snuggled down in my comfort zone of quirky first person narrative with a constant vein of dark humour. That’s not everyone’s cup of tea and my earlier novels are always going to be niche. The deep third person of Shard and his humourless take on life and death have helped me broaden my range. I now feel much more confident about writing for a commercial audience.

Q – Would you do it again?

Bee – Had that question been posed as I wrote the closing sentences of Kill Them Twice my reply would have referenced when hell freezes over, but time has dimmed the memory of the pain and I’m left with pride and pleasure in what we achieved. Rather like childbirth.

The Author Collaboration Agreement for Vanquish, the next in the series due to be published in 2016, does however include clauses forbidding us to ever meet in person again and for all disputes to be settled by virtual arm-wrestling. I can take him. I can.

Mark – As an old hand at karate I’m used to pain. I thrive on it. So yes to doing it again. Writing Vanquish is different from Kill Them Twice in that both plot and writing are collaborative this time. That may lead to fewer or more disputes, I don’t know, but the result will be another great read. I won’t be drawn on the arm-wrestling except that it’s futile to describe an unreachable goal. Rock paper scissors would be a better method of conflict resolution.

Kill Them Twice is available at the following outlets:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Google Play

iTunes

Kobo

Bee Eveleigh-Bell’s work has been published internationally and in several languages. She is based in South West France.
 
Mark Turner lives in rural Ireland. His short stories have been published in a number of anthologies and he has penned full-length works of fiction and non-fiction.
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BSE2013Some years ago when self-publishing ebooks was still new, I decided to give it a go. I’d wasted years sending novels out to agents and publishers and getting nowhere. I’d had short stories published in magazines and anthologies and some articles and poetry accepted but, apart from one book (The Man with the Horn) which was taken on by a small press, my novels never managed to find homes. Though agents said they liked my writing and often made suggestions for commercialising them, none of them was willing to take me on. I watched my life slipping away while my books languished unread.

Venturing into the ebook market changed all that. I now have readers – not huge numbers but better than none – and I get some small recompense for my literary efforts.

Formatting and publishing ebooks involved a learning curve but fortunately for me, not a steep one. I already knew the basics of using Word and how to layout documents; I knew a fair bit of HTML and I had a general grounding in IT. Formatting the ebooks still required a little trial and error but I soon learned by my mistakes. Before long I was up and running and checking my sales every five minutes.

In those early days I did my own proofreading – something I also do for others – and since I had a basic understanding of Photoshop and design, I created my own covers. Indeed, I did everything myself from writing the book to banking the US cheques. (Amazon now pays directly into a bank account, so at least that bit of faffing about has gone.) I was confident enough in my ability to offer to assist other people in getting their ebooks published.

So, if I was managing by myself, why did I decide to join an author collective?

I had been sending my new book – Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion – out to agents but again I had no luck in getting anyone to sign me up.  Hoping this would be my breakthrough novel, as I felt it was the best work I had done so far, I longed to see it in paperback format not just digital. I wanted to possess the real artefact to hold in my hands and caress.

Self-publishing a paperback is both easier and harder now than it used to be. Easier because the processes become more and more user-friendly as time goes on; harder because the marketplace is swamped, the Amazon algorithms are less favourable to independent authors (unless you first sell vast amounts of books), and it’s a struggle to make the book visible to readers. There is also still some stigma attached to self-publishing actual books – I believe this is because sometimes those books are not well made, not vetted in any way for mistakes and the covers look homemade. The thought of producing a paperback all on my own was daunting.

Enter Triskele Books.

I already knew the women who set up Triskele (JJ Marsh, Liza Perrat, Jane Dixon Smith, Catriona Troth, Gillian Hamer) virtually from online writing groups and I went on to meet them at a couple of their book launches. I knew their writing and they knew mine. They had produced some excellent books housed in droolworthy covers. By the time they broached the subject of my joining them, I had already decided to approach them. We came together at exactly the right moment.

Joining Triskele Books meant I no longer had to do everything myself. The cover of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion has been created by Jane Dixon Smith (herself a Triskele founder, writer and professional designer), the proofreading has been done by Perry Iles of Chamberproof, and I’ve had input, advice and encouragement from other members of the group.

Mistakes in an ebook can easily be rectified: typos and formatting can be put right; a bad cover can be changed for a better one. When it’s a physical book though, any overlooked errors are there until the next printing and are often costly to correct.

coverIf I had tried to do everything myself the final product would not have been as polished as it is going to be. When going it alone there is always the temptation to cut corners. Any cover I might have designed would not have been as sleek and professional as the one Jane has created. Left to my own devices I would not have sent the manuscript off for a final proofread – and it would have been the worse for it. I would not have made the cuts and rearrangements which were suggested by members of the team.

Triskele has its own website, blog, bookclub, Facebook and Twitter pages and, because there are several people involved, a wider reach when it comes to gaining readers. Their books look highly professional and can stand alongside traditionally published books with their heads high. There is quality control regarding both form and content – they lend their name only to books that are well written and that ultimately look great.

I’ve always been a loner and, like Groucho Marx, wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member, but in the Triskele collective I believe I have found a group of like-minded writers. The collective is composed of talented individuals who have come together to create a greater whole.

I am honoured to be among them.

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Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, a novel about a woman’s search for a missing manuscript and subsequen disorientation, will be available as an ebook in August/Sept 2014. The paperback will be available shortly thereafter. The Man with the Horn, a novel based on the myth of Dionysos, is being re-edited and will be available as an ebook soonFor more information visit Barbara Scott Emmett’s blog or follow her on Twitter @BSE_Writer.

Don’t Look Down, a thriller set in Germany, The Land Beyond Goodbye, a novel set in the Australian outback and Drowning: Four Short Stories are all available as ebooks.

 

 

Resized cover imageA lot of the people who know me have no idea that I’m a writer. I’ve always felt self-conscious about that label, because you need to be able to back it up; otherwise you’re just a bit of a weird fantasist. Or a romancer, as my grandmother would have said – meaning someone who makes up stories, which I suppose describes me fairly well. But right now I am holding in my hands an actual book, with my name on the cover, along with those of nine other talented women. Though I say it myself, My Baby Shot Me Down is an object of beauty. It includes both prose and poetry; some of it by far more accomplished writers than me. But if you type my name into an Amazon search, up it pops. It includes six of my short stories. So maybe I’ve earned the right to call myself a writer.

People tend to be impressed when you show them an actual book. My favourite response so far is ‘What are you doing in there?’ People who know me are pleased, excited, proud, and sometimes, to be honest, a little puzzled, because they thought I was just a rather odd person who gave up a secure, well-paid teaching job and ended up working part time for minimum wage and volunteering in a charity shop. Which is all true, but not the whole story. Anyway, my name is Alison Wassell, and I am a writer.

And then, inevitably, The Question is asked.

When are you going to write a novel?’ I wonder if, as Usain Bolt crosses the finishing line, anyone ever says

That’s nice dear, but when are you going to run the marathon?’

My name is Alison Wassell and I am a short story writer. I am not a wannabe novelist. I don’t view short stories as practice for something bigger. They are what I do, and my only ambition is to do them better.

DIGITAL CAMERAI almost got sucked in once. Several years ago, I registered for Nanowrimo. The idea is that, throughout the month of November, you attempt to write the first draft of a novel. The target is, I think, 50.000 words. I lasted about a week, and I wrote around 8000 words. I began to dread my writing sessions. I ran out of plot. But my head started to burst with ideas for short stories that I was desperate to write. That was when I realised that I was not a novelist, and that I had no desire to be one. The following November I set myself the target of writing a new story every day for 30 days. It was one of the best writerly things I’ve ever done. Several of those stories ended up as competition winners. I’m actually still working on some of the others.

Five of my stories in the anthology are flash fictions. It’s what I do best. I don’t do lengthy descriptions and I don’t do intricate plotting. I just like to capture a moment, or a single idea. I get most of my ideas from snippets of overheard conversations on buses. I once won £50 for a story based on something the cashier in the Co-op told me when I was buying cat litter. I think a piece of flash fiction is closer to a poem than any other form of writing. You can compose it in your head during a thirty minute walk. By the time you put pen to paper, it can be almost word perfect. I know this, because I do it, most mornings, on my way to work.

So, as a writer, I am a sprinter, not a marathon runner. Anyone who knows me personally will be smirking now, because I won’t even run to catch a bus, but I still like the analogy, so I’m sticking with it.

I’m well aware that short story writing will never make me rich. But for the last couple of years it has paid my fuel bills, mainly in competition winnings. I could have spent that time beavering away at ‘my novel’, with little or no hope of it ever being published. But I’d have needed a lot of extra jumpers to keep me warm while I was doing it.

DIGITAL CAMERAI don’t regard the short story as a lesser form. Alice Munro is my heroine. I prefer William Trevor’s short stories to his novels, and I believe that Dubliners is the best thing that James Joyce ever wrote. I’m thrilled to have my work included in My Baby Shot Me Down, because I can’t imagine anywhere else that would offer me such a fantastic showcase. But please don’t ask me when my novel will be coming out. My name is Alison Wassell, and my ambition is to be a better short story writer.

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Alison is short story writer who specialises in flash fiction. Once a primary school teacher, she has won, been placed and shortlisted in numerous writing competitions, including 2nd place in Flash 500 (first quarter 2013) and first prize in the microfiction section of The New Writer Prose & Poetry Prizes 2012 with I Blame The Parents, which is included in My Baby Shot Me Down. By the way, Tania Hershman came third in that competition!  Her story The Mother Thief was placed third out of 1400 entries in the Final Chapters writing competition, organized by the Dying Matters Coalition in 2012, and was published in the Final Chapters Anthology (Jessica Kingsley Publishers) in 2014. In 2012 Alison came second in the 250 word category and third in the 1000 words category of the Words With Jam Bigger Short Story Competition. Her stories were published in the anthology An Earthless Melting Pot. In 2013 she came second in the 2500 words category of the same competition and was a runner up in the 250 words section.

I told you she was top!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today I’m taking part in the launch party for Simon Kewin’s YA fantasy novel Hedge Witch.

Fifteen year-old Cait Weerd has no idea she’s being sought by the undain: sorcerous creatures that feed off the spirit of the living. She doesn’t know they need her blood to survive. She doesn’t even know she’s a witch, descended from a long line of witches. Cait Weerd doesn’t know a lot, really, but all that’s about to change.

At Manchester Central Library she’s caught up in sudden violence. In the chaos she’s given an old book that’s been hidden there. Given it and told to run. Hide the book or destroy it. The book contains all the secrets of the undains’ existence. They and their human servants want to find it as much as they want to find her.

Cait learns the fates of two worlds are at stake. Just what she needs. Along with definitely-not-a-boyfriend Danny, she has to decide what the hell to do. Run, fight or hope it all goes away.

It’s only then she learns who she really is, along with the terrible truth of what the undain have been doing in our world all this time…

The first three chapters of the book are available as a free taster to download in Kindle or ePub format.

In addition, if you fancy winning a copy of the complete book, enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below to be in with a shot at five copies in either Kindle or ePub format…

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Simon is also giving away Witching Hour – a collection of three witchy short stories – to all partygoers as part of the celebrations. Grab your copy now!

Contains the stories: The Standing Stones of Erelong, A Sorcerous Mist and Slieau Whallian.

Available in these formats: Kindle | ePUB.

Simon Kewin is a fantasy and SF writer, author of Hedge Witch, Engn, The Genehunter and multifarious short stories and poems.

Find him here.

A WEEKLY INCENTIVE TO WRITE

Jo Publicity PhotoI find one of the hardest things about being a writer is getting started. By that I mean putting pen to paper or words into a blank document. In my experience, once I type the first line I’m away and all is well. Opening that blank document and starting to type is the problem. That’s why the Write-Invite Competition, Write On Site was perfect for me for a couple of years .

On its website, Write Invite describes itself as ‘in a nutshell a literary open mic’. Their Write On Site Competition runs every Saturday from 5.30pm until 6.30pm. You are required to join as a member, then once the countdown reaches 17.30, you are given three themes and required to check the terms and conditions box, then pay the £4 entry fee via Paypal. It’s possible to buy credits in advance, which is advisable, as it speeds up the whole process. Once you’ve paid, a text box appears and you begin typing your story, which you have to submit by 18.00. Your words are automatically saved at intervals during the thirty minute period.

I remember my first attempt at the Write On Site Competition very clearly. I was very much on edge and worried I wouldn’t get a complete story written in the thirty minutes. When I had a mere five minutes left before having to submit, I was shaking and breaking out in a sweat. Talk about an adrenalin rush! The sense of relief when you hit the ‘Submit’ button and see your story as ‘Pending’ is enormous! However, rest assured that each time you enter, it gets easier and you are able to produce more and more words in the time limit (particularly if, like me, you are a 60wpm touch typist!).

So, are there any hints and tips to make the Write On Site experience less traumatic?

Firstly, I recommend having a glass of your favourite alcoholic beverage to hand. This frees up the sub-conscious and helps you ignore your internal editor/critic.

Secondly, write from the heart and don’t worry about the market or genre. Simply immerse yourself in the words. Remember, it is supposed to be an enjoyable experience!

Thirdly, it helps enormously to have your notebook next to you as you write. Like most writers, I regularly go out and about with my notebook, writing down images, experiences, snatches of conversation and ideas. If you don’t do this, I highly recommend it. Sit down on a park bench, in a café, somewhere overlooking a beauty spot or bit of coastline and write down your observations.

A few minutes before Write On Site begins, I flick through the pages of my notebook and pick out a few images or phrases. Often I use one as the first line of my story. I’m the kind of writer to whom setting is very important, so my first line is often a piece of imagery, which places the reader firmly at the scene. This gets round the problem of staring at the blank page wondering how on earth you’re going to begin.

It also helps to have an idea in mind before you’ve even seen the themes. For example, I might spend a bit of time in the hour leading up to Write On Site thinking about the sort of relationship I want to write about. For example, ‘today I think I’ll explore the relationship between a father and his gay son’. Or I may choose one of the ideas in my notebook and fit it to one of the three themes. That way you’re not going in totally ‘cold’.

Once you’ve written that first sentence, you need to forget it’s a timed competition and immerse yourself in the writing. Lose yourself in the story. However, do keep an eye on the time. When you have about ten minutes left, you need to start winding down the story and think of an ending. Try not to end the piece too abruptly. Maybe have a closing image in mind before you begin writing in those crucial preparation stages.

I don’t usually think up a title until the last five minutes or so. Try to think of something quirky to capture the judge’s imagination. I find this one of the most difficult aspects of Write On Site, because at this stage you’re up against it time-wise. I never prepare titles in advance, as I think it’s very dependent on the theme.

Try to allow yourself enough time to edit. There have been many weeks when I haven’t had time to edit my story, but these days I find I don’t need to, as there are very few, if any, mistakes. This sounds arrogant, but it comes with practice. One of my early ‘tics’ was to slip into the past tense when I’d started in the present (particularly if there was a flashback scene) or vice versa. Some people may sub-consciously switch viewpoint. We all have bad habits. Another one is putting in too many weakening words like ‘just’ or ‘quite’. These are minor points that the Write Invite judges will happily overlook provided you’ve written a memorable piece.

Remember that Write On Site is a bit of fun. It’s not meant to be tortuous! Everyone is in the same boat in that they are all under pressure to produce a story in the thirty minutes. The story and/or idea is the most important thing and spelling mistakes and typos, for example, can be forgiven.

For me, Write On Site is all about producing a new piece of writing to hone and polish at a later date. I have been fortunate in that many of my entries have been in the Top Three, including my first ever attempt, which came third that particular week back in August 2011. I’ve been lucky enough to win the £50 prize on several occasions. Most writers will receive a short write-up of their story when the top three shortlisted stories are announced on the following Wednesday evening. This provides much needed feedback and encouragement. Some stories are ‘Also read’ (ie. they don’t receive a write-up), but don’t be put off. I know writers whose ‘also read’ stories have gone on to be published or win other competitions after a bit of a polish.

If you enter Write On Site regularly, then it will increase your productivity no end. In 2011 I entered 15 times, 43 times in 2012 and 29 times in 2013. That’s 87 new stories or potential stories to work on. I’d never have written so many without this weekly incentive. I have won the £50 prize seven times so from a financial point of view I don’t necessarily come out on top, although one of the stories I wrote for Write On Site has made me £200 so far. What was more important to me was the competition gave me the incentive to write something new. I came to look forward to my appointment with the computer on Saturday evenings and to the Wednesday afternoon ‘results email’. It is also fun to read the top three stories each week and vote for your favourite.

I’ve now taken a break from Write On Site, as I wasn’t getting so excited about doing it anymore and wanted to focus on my novel. Some weeks I miss it, but I have the option of joining in again whenever I want to.

So, what’s stopping you taking the plunge? Write On Site, although nerve-wracking at first, is a most rewarding experience.

You can read some of my winning Write On Site stories here. Just click my name to read:

On Good Authority, Dancing Girls, Surfer Boy, Alopecia and A Stray Dog, Skin and Bone and Tilly’s Tale.

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Twisted SheetsJo Derrick has just published her first collection of short stories from 1997 to the present as an e-book on Amazon Kindle, entitled Twisted Sheets.  Twisted Sheets is a bold exploration of love, loss and longing. Some of the stories started life on Write On Site!

Jo has been writing seriously since 1990 and has numerous short stories and articles published in a wide range of publications, including Mslexia, Writers’ Forum, Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special, Take A Break’s Fiction Feast, Upstart!, Peninsular, Buzzwords, The Whittaker Prize Anthology and many more. Jo is the editor/publisher of The Yellow Room Magazine, a print journal for women writers and former publisher of QWF Magazine. She is working on a psychological crime novel.

Huw Thomas - medThere’s nothing that remarkable to my story. I grew up in a small market town in southern England, the youngest of six children living in a big old house. There were fields beyond our garden and a canal not far away.

I always loved exploring – woods, streams, buildings with unlocked doors… still do, although now I’ve reached the age of being (allegedly) responsible for my actions, I tend to go a bit easy on the trespassing part.

As a boy, life had its ups and downs. I wouldn’t exactly say my school days were the best time of my life. My family was vegetarian and we had no television – both of which helped make me a bit of an outsider. I also had strict parents who put academic achievement way above personal comfort.

There were times when I felt I’d got a rough deal compared to my friends. But – thanks to a fertile imagination and the countryside on my doorstep – it was easy enough to escape into worlds of my own making.

Now, a few decades of distance help give things a different perspective. In particular I wonder if I would have developed the writing habit quite so early if I’d spent my younger days sitting in front of the television.

All those days spent roaming my town and the area around it also put me in touch with my world. I knew my town, the villages around it – and much of the countryside between them – like the back of my hand.

That connection with where I grew up has also helped fuel my writing. My third novel, The Vault, is set in an imaginary town called Compton Fosse. But while the town itself doesn’t exist, its world does. Small English towns are what I know best.

Much of the story also takes place in a fragment of ancient woodland called Hobthrush Wood. It’s where my main protagonist – young Adam Strong – fights most of his battles with the yobs from the council estate. It’s also where he and his friends discover something a lot more dangerous.

As well as the inevitable gnarled oaks, hollies and towering beech trees, Hobthrush Wood is also full of meandering streams, bogs, patches of rhododendron, and areas of regimented conifers, exactly the kind of place where I spent many happy hours as a boy.

Looking back now, although I felt a sense of injustice about certain things in my life I know I didn’t suffer any real hardships – certainly not compared with those born in other parts of the world.

When I published The Vault, I decided that half of all royalties would go to the disaster relief charity ShelterBox. It’s an organisation that I know well – I used to be in charge of their PR.

In 2010, my wife and I also undertook a one-year tandem cycle ride in aid of the charity. For that challenge we were chiefly inspired by a short video about a young girl from Java – called Siti Ayeesha – who was helped by ShelterBox after an earthquake in 2006.

In the video, Siti explains: “A few days ago, we were woken up by the sound of the ground shaking. My house fell down and a lot of my things were lost but I’m very lucky because I still have my family. 

“Not everyone was so lucky. Our village is not the same since the earthquake. All of the houses are gone and lots of my friends are no longer here.”

Now, when I go back to my hometown, a few places have changed but most are no different and many of the people I went to school with are still there.

Maybe I’d have written different books if I’d grown up in a country where earthquakes can wipe out your home and kill large numbers of the people around you. On the other hand, I’d settle for growing up without a TV and only getting to eat bacon sandwiches at my friends’ houses.

ShelterBox was able to help Siti and her family. I’m hoping that, through The Vault, I can help their work by writing about my world. With a little bit of help from my imagination. After all, I never actually came across a gang of armed robbers when I was playing in the woods.

Vault front cover Mar 13The Vault:

The Vault is a mystery thriller set in a small town in southern England. The book revolves around young schoolboy Adam Strong and his battles with a gang of local yobs. Woven around Adam’s story are three other strands – an armed raid on the home of a reclusive billionaire, the discovery of three dead bodies in a local pond and a sex offender who goes on the run after breaking his parole.

The different stories – and timelines – all gradually come together as the significance of the vault and its contents finally become clear.

Aimed at adults, The Vault explores questions of trust and loyalty from a range of perspectives.

ShelterBox background:

ShelterBox provides emergency shelter and other aid that a family needs to survive in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.

I originally trained as a journalist before going into PR. From 2006 to 2007, I was in charge of communications and fundraising for ShelterBox at the charity’s base in Cornwall.

Although I left the UK to retrain as a TEFL teacher (English as a Foreign Language), I continued to support ShelterBox and – in 2010 – my wife and I undertook a year-long tandem cycle ride in aid of the charity that involved riding nearly 11,000 miles across 10 countries and raised nearly £50,000.

Bio:

My wife, Carolyn, and I have just bought a house in Bournemouth after several years teaching in Portugal. As well as writing, I currently juggle several part-time jobs – gardening, teaching at a language school and working as a sub-editor for a local newspaper.

I had my first writing success in 2005 when The Tale of Findo Gask won a UK contest for new authors. I was over the moon to get a publishing contract but sadly – although I did get to see my book in print and got one royalty cheque – the company involved went bust not long after.

Subsequently, along with Findo and The Vault, I’ve published one other novel – Thin Ice – and one collection of short stories – Fractured Lives – under my own name. I’ve also written an adventure novel called Pagan’s Sphinx under the pen name William Webster. At the moment – slightly annoyingly – this is selling a lot more copies than my other books.

I’ve also just completed the first draft of my next novel – Church of the White Rabbits – which is a bit more quirky than anything I’ve written before. This is currently in the hands of my beta readers but I hope it will be out by the end of the year or early in 2014.

Memoir: fact or fiction?  

1208757_10151891817565817_1189422053_nIs it autobiographical? How much of your life is in the story? They’re questions fiction writers get asked a lot. My answers, and it would be the same for most authors I know, are no and very little.

For sure, my life experiences influence the exploration of certain themes. It has taken many years, and many narratives, to realise that a recurring theme in my work is absent parents, fathers in particular, and though it hasn’t been the driving force in my stories and novels, it is there. Always.  It’s fair to say this obsession is a direct result of my childhood experience, but my work is fictitious, categorically; the story arcs, characters, voices; all products of my imagination. It’s much more fun making things up, and I consider my own life way too boring for public consumption – I’m as ordinary as can be.

But my mother and father’s story… now that could be interesting. This story, and my small role in the latter part of it, has held an increasingly strong grip on my imagination since I heard it, in its entirety, when I was twenty-seven. Given that many of the characters are still living I haven’t had the courage to pen anything, for fear of upsetting people I love. Until now. Elsewhere is a short story, a memoir, of a part I had in the larger narrative.

It was hard to write; much harder than fiction, I found, and not because of the emotional nature of the tale but because it took me a while to relax about the facts – whether or not they were accurate. Because memoir, or life writing, shares much with fiction and one person’s truth may well differ from another’s – and often quite dramatically.

book coverI approached Elsewhere (published by Ether Books this week) like any other story, the crucial difference being that the characters, the places, were conjured not from my imagination but memory and, as we all know, memory plays tricks. So, not wanting to be hampered even further by the facts, I wrote two drafts before checking a couple of details with my mother. I’d got them slightly wrong, muddled in time and place. A mixture of recall and things my mum had told me about my paternal grandmother, Betty. See, it is their story that fascinates; so much so that I’ve placed my small self in parts of it; incorrectly as it transpires.

Should I have altered these details in search of truth? No, my mum said, it is your truth. She is right. I may not have visited Betty – or Mrs Wilkinson as I called her – at the Gothic, tumbledown house in Everton, but the sense of foreboding, rancour and sheer misery Betty secreted was real enough. The children in the school yard as my sister and I told the pie story might be playing different roles, Helen might have been wearing a different coat, but we did tell the story and it did loom over my primary years. A changeable shadow I couldn’t shake off. And it is these emotional truths that matter, that I attempt to uncover in the retelling of the tale.

We all create fictions whether we are writers or not. Stories are how we humans attempt to make sense of the world and our place in it. And perhaps the narrators of memoir are all unreliable, to a greater or lesser extent, but they are not barriers to a good yarn. Stephen King said fiction is the truth inside the lie; the same is true of memoir.

Will I write more memoir? I’m not sure; I’ve enough ‘pure’ fiction to be getting on with. But maybe one day I will tell my mother and father’s story. It has fine ingredients: young, handsome lovers; a mad, bad mother; a devoted maiden aunt; a missing husband; mental illness; 60s asylums and tragic deaths. I just need to find my angle. Just. Ha. Until then it’s back to the novels.

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Elsewhere is available from Ether Books. Download the App onto your iPhone, iPad, Android for FREE here.

Ether Books is a new mobile social reading platform, connecting Writers and Readers around the world. Ether publishes “made for mobile” Quick Reads straight to Smart Phones, the fastest growing digital reading device on the planet. Discover talented new and bestselling writers right from your pocket.

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About Laura Wilkinson

Laura grew up in a Welsh market town and now lives in Brighton with her husband and two boys. As well as writing fiction, she works as an editor for literary consultancy, Cornerstones. She has published short stories in magazines, digital media and anthologies. She writes general fiction as Laura Wilkinson and erotic romance as L. C. Wilkinson. Her first hot romance, All of Me, is published by Xcite, an imprint of Accent Press. Currently, she’s working on a two novels: one is set against the backdrop of the 1984/85 miners’ strike; the other is a romance following a petulant young woman and a man running from his past. What does all her work have in common? Compelling stories, fascinating characters, and ideas that make you think a little. At least she hopes so! Find out more here.  Or follow her on Twitter: @ScorpioScribble. She loves to hear from readers.