Tuesday, 29 October 2013

'Same Face, Different Place: Visions' by Helen J Christmas

Visions is a book you can really get your teeth into. It is the second part of a series which follows Eleanor and the people around her over several decades. I enjoyed 'Beginnings', the first book in the series which was set in the criminal world of 1970's London immensely and was eager to see what Ms Christmas had done with my favourite decade, the 80's.

We join Eleanor as she and her son are enjoying settling into village life after the horrors which saw them fleeing from London. With her pleasant nature she is easily accepted into the community and sets about making a life for them both. Eleanor's new friends have their own problems too and it soon becomes apparent they are linked to people from her past. Her secret past is still a shadow she can't shake off and she fears for her son's safety when old enemies start to resurface.

Written with an surprising air of menace, the author has managed to convey the characters darkest sides, deepest fears and greatest hopes. Whilst keeping Eleanor strong enough to show true courage and make her a likeable character, the author has managed to show the dark side of what some people are willing to do to keep the power they crave. There is a scene which I felt was unnecessary in its method of violence and I would have liked to have seen the perpetrator brought to justice over it instead of the victim being scared to report it but this fits in with the feelings of the decade in which the novel was set unfortunately. The story was so strong overall I am going to recommend this book regardless. The author has done her research well and has skillfully reflected the attitudes, prejudices and ignorances of the 1980's.

A worthy continuation and I am looking forward to more with the next installment.

Helen J Christmas has a passion for gripping stories with strong characters and a love of writing since childhood. Her debut novel 'Same Face, Different Place: Beginnings' sees sixteen year old Eleanor thrown into the dark criminal underworld of 1970's London. You can find out more about the series via the website www.samefacedifferentplace.co.uk which also has links to Helen's Facebook, twitter pages and blog.

Author's Amazon Page

Monday, 28 October 2013

Guest Blog - 'Becoming A Writer' by author Ben Hatch

Many writers have a Eureka moment when they realise what they want to do with their life. I had a moment when I realized there was nothing else I could do with my life. For years after I left school I was directionless. Aged 18, for instance, I wanted to become a professional snooker player. I had my own snooker cue autographed by Tony Meo, and on a small quarter-sized snooker table that I shared with my brother, I’d recently achieved a break of 27. It would have been 35 if I hadn't had to use a 2b pencil instead of a cue to pot the black in the tight corner of my bedroom, where the table didn't quite fit. It seems absurd, but I genuinely thought if I practiced hard enough I could become as good as Steve Davis. This snooker obsession helps explain my A-Level grades, which scraped me into Bristol poly. My snooker ambition lasted until the Christmas first term. Having not attended even my 6 hours of lectures a week so I could practice in the Riley Sports Bar and Bingo Club, I told my dad I'd something important to tell him. As was customary, we went upstairs to play a frame of snooker to discuss matters. I was hoping to demonstrate how good I’d become at the game and use this to soften the blow that I'd soon be abandoning my studies to turn pro. As it transpired, my dad - not a very good snooker player - beat me by almost 100 points. What clinched it, and forced me to abandon my snooker dream, was not just the fact my dad was playing without his glasses on - they were at Dolland and Aitchison having the lenses altered. But that he also at the time had quite bad conjunctivitis. Barely able to see, with his eyes bloodshot and watering, my dad, who’d not hit a snooker ball since I saw him three month's earlier, had comprehensively beaten me at a game I was hoping to make my living at.

Living back home after dropped out of poly I sought my fortune in The City. I didn’t want to work in The City, but my dad thought I was suited to high finance having based this on two things.

1) He thought I had a good brain for figures because I knew never to develop hotels on the green set at family Monopoly and

2) From how much time I spent spiking my hair with country-born gel and borrowing his car without filling it up with petrol afterwards, he thought I was shallow and sufficiently selfish.

I bought myself a pair of bright red braces and the stripiest shirt a £15 voucher at Mr Byrite could afford and was quickly offered a job in The City at Copenhagen Reinsurance. I wrongly assumed (on the basis of the word Copenhagen) I'd meet a lot of blonde-haired Swedish female work colleagues. There were no female Swedish co-workers. In fact, there were no females at all. Everyone came to work in a tie pin and cuffs, was called Oliver and talked about nothing other than which new company car they'd be buying in August. My work involved calculating the reinsurance cover for various oil tankers. Great pains were taken to explain how this was done. However, it was just too boring to pay any attention to. Rather than ask someone to go over it again I simply guessed the cover. For a few weeks I came to work, made up some insurance cover, discussed super cars and went home again. Fearful I’d be found out I resigned two days before the Exxon Valdez ran aground spilling millions of tonnes of crude oil into Prince William Sound, Alaska. I understand it sparked the biggest insurance claim in history. I never did discover if she was one of mine.

After finance I decided to become an actor. I enrolled at a local theatre company and won the lead in a play written by Mary O’Malley. The only trouble with acting was that I couldn't do it. I was 21, not even sure who I was yet, so had little chance in convincing people I was someone else. Also my character’s storyline involved me wooing a teenage girl, who I had to kiss in the play. It was a small theatrical troupe and the only teenager available to play the role was 14. This set up was already uncomfortable for me, even before her father, Barry, or Bazza as he liked to be known, started staying to watch rehearsals after driving her to them in his plumbing van. Two weeks before the play opened the nerves and fear got the better of me and I did a Stephen Fry. I phoned the director and quit, claiming I’d moved unexpectedly to Norwich. Curious to discover what I’d been doing wrong, however, I attended the opening night. I watched my stand-in’s performance with great interest from a back seat in the theatre. He was, of course, even in the limited time he’d had to prepare, a thousand times better than I could ever have been. This both cheered and depressed me. What also cheered and depressed me was to hear later that he’d been so convincing in his role as seducer, at the after-show party, Bazza had beaten him quite him up badly with a pipe cutter.

Many other careers came and went after this. For a time I was involved in the horticultural trade. I sold photocopiers then insurance. I worked in a pub, a video shop. I was a postman. I tried painting and decorating. I worked in the dole office and in the Royal Bank of Scotland on Baker Street in London as a grade one clerk but was asked to leave after mailing actor Michael Crawford’s cheque book to the wrong address. Claiming it was what Frank Spencer might well have done was probably a mistake. One time I tried to set myself up as a private detective. I put an advert in my local paper, The Bucks Examiner. Under the image of a large magnifying glass my ad ran: “Marital surveillance. Question mark.” Much to my parent's despair (I'd used our home number), I had plenty of phone enquiries. But for some reason hearing my mum shouting upstairs: "Benjy, there's a man on the phone who wants you to follow his wife, can you get out of the bath please," tended to discourage potential clients. Once I got get sacked from selling advertising space at the Independent newspaper for writing a letter of acceptance for my job unacceptably. Though the epitome of what a moron I was, is best summed up by the letter of resignation I wrote when I quit selling advertising space at a computer magazine. In a two-page missive questioning their ethics in cold-calling potential customers and also in dissecting my own fragile soul, I quoted a line from the Orson Wells film Citizen Kane about losing my innocence. I’d only been there 6 days. On a training course. I hadn’t sold a single advert.

The turning point for me was aged 29 when my mother died. She was the greatest mother any son could wish for. And by that I mean she always took my side when I argued with my dad. Whatever crime against common sense and decency I committed she backed me up. Almost 20 years since she died, I can still hear her voice defending me to my dad. “He didn't mean to bite it, spill it, break it, steal it, lose it. He's sensitive." My mother took in people’s ironing. She ironed in a blue boiler suit with Ironing Lady written on the back. She ironed seven hours a day every day and had a muscle in her forearm the size of Popeye’s because of it. Just before she died, the final time she was strong enough to leave the house, in the pub next door to us, she handed my brother, sister and I each a cheque for £20,000. It was money she’d saved ironing at £5 an hour. That’s 14,000 hours of ironing. At the time I was a reporter at The Leicester Mercury newspaper. My mum’s death made me determined to do something that would’ve made her proud of me. So, once again, I quit my job. But this time I did something constructive. It took me a year to write The Lawnmower Celebrity. I sent the manuscript off in ten manila envelopes to literary agents the day before I left the country to go travelling round the world. I went travelling because I didn’t want to be around when the rejections came in. Halfway round the globe in Thailand I was composing a grovelling a letter asking for my old job back when I got an email from the very last agent I’d sent my book to. He wanted to take me on. I’ve been a writer ever since.

Author Bio - Ben Hatch was born in London and grew up here, in Manchester and Buckinghamshire, where he lived in a Windmill that meant he was called Windy Miller at school for years, though he's not been scarred by this experience at all. He now lives in Brighton with his tiny wife Dinah, and two children, in a normal house. He likes cheese and is balding although he disguises this fact by spiking his hair to a great height to distract people he wishes to impress.*

Are We Nearly There Yet? is currently priced at £6.47 paperback and £3.04 Kindle

Road to Rouen is currently priced at £5.40 paperback and £3.99 Kindle.

Ben Hatch's Amazon Author Page can be viewed here, Goodreads here and you can follow him on Twitter @BenHatch.

(*Author bio via Amazon.co.uk)

Monday, 21 October 2013

Guest Blog - 'Why I Love (And Write In) The Young Adult Genre' by author Jack Croxall

I remember the moment I first wanted to become a writer. I was sitting in my early-teenage bedroom reading The Amber Spyglass in between stints of homework, GameCube and playing electric guitar badly, when *spoiler alert* star-crossed adolescents Lyra and Will were forced into parallel universes never to see each other again.

Before starting the His Dark Materials trilogy I had bypassed the YA genre completely, instead choosing to graduate straight from children’s books to novels aimed at adults. With the benefit of hindsight, I suppose I’d done this in some misguided attempt to appear cool to the opposite sex but, thankfully, Philip Pullman’s books were knocking about the house for some reason and one day they just happened to catch my eye.

I was not ready for the heartbreaking ending of The Amber Spyglass. It got to me in a way that nothing I had ever read/watched had done so before. I’d identified with the characters early on and, although I didn't fully appreciate all of the complex themes the books explored at the time, the plot had drawn me in hook, line and sinker. Once I’d read the book’s final sentence, I immediately turned over to the cover and thought, Mr Pullman, I want to be able to make people feel how you've made me feel. And in truth, that was depressed into to a mild stupor for days – but in a good way.

From that moment on I started feasting on nothing but YA, only picking up the occasional ‘adult novel’ once I was into my twenties. I do enjoy reading books aimed at mature audiences but I rarely connect with them like I do with novels following adolescents. After much reflection, I think this must be because some of the trials and tribulations teenagers go through are universal and that means I can still relate to them despite being slightly less Y and a little more A these days.

So, when I finally sat down to write my first novel, Tethers, (sadly my education got in the way of me becoming a writer the instant I finished His Dark Materials) there really wasn't any question over what kind of book it would be. I wanted to write in the genre I loved and, indeed, my protagonist was a teenager named Karl almost from the moment my fingers touched the keyboard.

Tethers - A YA Victorian fantasy, Jack Croxall’s debut novel, Tethers follows Karl Scheffer and Esther Emerson as they become embroiled in a treacherous conspiracy. 

Jack also has a brand new novel out called 'X' - Fifteen-year-old X thinks she is going to die. Shacked up in the cellar of an old farmhouse, she starts a journal to document her last few days. Much less than a few days if the things outside manage to get in.

The books are available through Amazon here and you can find out more by visiting www.jackcroxall.co.uk. You can also follow Jack on Twitter @JackCroxall.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Out of Time II: A Raven's Hoard by Gill Jepson

I really enjoyed this children's fiction and was particularly interested in the historical aspect. The author has done her research into the local area and its legends very well. The book often flicks from one timeline to another and I would definitely recommend this book for the 9+ years it is marketed at for that reason as it could be confusing for a younger child.

Nate loves archaeology and is delighted when the leader of a local dig agrees he can help. Quickly thrown into a mystery, which spans generations of his family, he pieces together an ancient puzzle involving skulls, swords, Vikings, Saxons and monks. Thrown back in time, he gets to see what his village looked like centuries ago and even gets to meet some of his ancestors who help him with his quest to find the powerful artefacts he must keep out of the hands of those who would misuse them.

It's a great children's story, well written and fun, with an eye to the youth of today but still maintaining an old fashioned adventure of old too. Kind of reminded me of being curled up on my own grandmother's lap as she read Enid Blyton to me.

Although this is part of a series, it can be read as a stand alone very easily.

Buy 'Out of Time II: Raven's Hoard'

Out of Time Website

Other books by Gill Jepson

Twitter: @gilljep

Guest Blog - 'Writing: Is It Just My Imagination?' by author Kimberly Biller

Some people are naturally talented and can make something from nothing. Others have to work at it just to be mediocre. I believe we all have a craft we can hone and shine at. It could be any talent under the sun, not just writing. I chose writing because it is something I am passionate about. Although, I really didn’t set out to write anything other than my memoir. I knew I had a story to tell that had nothing to do with actual talent, but more to do with my life and the horrific past that I had endured as a child and later as a child bride. I needed to share it with the world. I wanted to show how resilient we humans can be. I am proof we can overcome the worst of what life throws at us, pick up what’s left of our sanity and move on. Throughout my writing/publishing endeavor over the last year I am often told I have a great imagination and asked how I come up with my story ideas. It’s always these similar statements, after hearing them on a regular basis that gets me to thinking; do I have a good imagination or am I just fortunate enough to have a past filled with so many incidents that I can pull from them and weave a tale? If I am being honest, it’s the latter. I have so many memories from my childhood that I could probably write a different story every day, yet, it’s not quite that simple. I need to be inspired to write about it, or at least have the memory triggered to make me even want to revisit those days. Like my novellas, The Tree in the Front Yard and One Street Over. These stories are based on my childhood and things that had an impact on me and propelled me to write about them. I don’t go searching through my memory bank for the actual idea, it just comes to me out of the blue. I think many writers draw from their own experiences and then spin it, twist it and finally perfect it to be published to a potential audience of millions. If you find yourself wondering whether you could write a short story or a book, don’t hesitate trying your hand at it. Many great story tellers probably had no idea they had it in them until they put pen to paper. You could be a natural and not know it, or have a great imagination.

Author's Bio - I was born and raised in East Tennessee in a very rural area. My parents were from a poor background and brought their own five children into a world of poverty. I think I was a daydreamer from an early age. I was desperate for a better life and an easier road. Unfortunately for me I was in my late twenties to early thirties before that road came along. I managed a better life for myself and my children through hard work as a manicurist, and pure determination. I was determined not to live like my folks did. Stubbornness paid off it would seem.

Kimberly Biller has written a number of other books which can be found here on her Amazon Author Page.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Guest Blog - 'How Research Has Become a Valuable Part of My Writing' by author Helen Christmas

Since I embarked on writing my current series, I have discovered a part that I really enjoy - and that’s the research.

My current series is the first set of books, I have ever really felt serious about - a wonderful opportunity to do something I not only enjoy, but portray everything I’ve observed in my own life, to give a personal narrative of British culture; from my early childhood memories in the 70s, to the college days of the 80s, right through the early 90s, when I first stepped out into the big wide world as an adult. Thus, Same Face Different Place was born.

To give the stories a sense of realism, I really had to dig deep. The first book was set in London - and (confession time), although I have visited London many times, I have never actually lived there. So what must it have been like, growing up in the heart of the 1970s criminal underworld? Early inspiration came from having read numerous books by Leslie Pearce and Martina Cole, whose novels were based in a similar setting. I felt I knew enough about organised crime to pull together an exciting yarn of my own - but I still had to cast my gaze a bit further. I watched a few videos on YouTube about the Kray brothers and found even more inspiration from a film from 1971, titled ‘the Bank Job’. But what about the sort of ‘every day characters’ who would have been around? Not just gangsters, but real, grass roots city folk?

Further inspiration oozed from borrowed library books, which describe the social and political events of that era.

But it took one amazing exhibition in Whitechapel, by photographer Ian Berry, to really step into their world. He portrayed life so beautifully in his series of black and white photos, I couldn’t have found greater inspiration if I’d have travelled back in time and tumbled into the 1970s East End on my bum! And that was the most enjoyable piece of research I ever did, the one which really set me off on a trail.

Thus, visiting different places has become an integral part of my writing.

The second book took the characters away from London and into rural England, so the next part of my research involved several journeys between London and Kent - trips which took me through the Blackwell Tunnel, to Swanley, then further along the road to Orpington and Bromley, which I chose as important locations. I should stress, that ‘Rosebrook’ the town which features in book 2, Visions, is not a real place. It is a fictitious town conjured up from memories of Loughborough, (the nearest town where I grew up) mashed up with certain aspects of Bromley and Orpington.

Portraying the architectural styles of these Kentish towns has been important - and these research trips also include lots photography. This in turn, provides valuable inspiration for embellishing the descriptions of each setting - as well as visual material for book covers, Pinterest boards and even video trailers. With an arsenal of photos on my computer, I have constantly referred to all this stuff, as my second novel took shape.

For example, there is a chase on the London Underground. So, in order to familiarise myself with this scene, I spent a few hours travelling around on the train between various locations, before pursuing the ‘chosen route’ on the tube; just as well I did, really - the first time I wrote that scene, I somehow got the levels the wrong way round! Further inspiration came on discovering that nearly every tube station was different - from the colour of the tiles on the walls, to whether it required a flight of steps or an escalator, to get out. Above all else, it was fun. Every time I embarked on one of these ‘adventures’ I always came home revived and inspired.

The second book also involved researching the restoration of old buildings and this was where the internet came in really handy. There are hardly enough hours in the day to trawl through endless library books and I practically needed a degree in architecture! The library books did come in handy - but in addition, I discovered internet forums, such as the ‘Period Property’ forum which discusses all matters concerning restoration. I even started a thread of my own, in pursuit of expert advice on how to detect Death Watch Beetle in the underlying timbers of an old country house. I was delighted to receive 7 replies, some of which included some very useful links as to where might forage for even more detailed information.

Wikipedia, too has been a Godsend - articles, such as ‘The Fall of Scotland Yard,’ which furnished me with valuable nuggets of information on how the corruption between senior police officers and organised crime, was eventually exposed. I’m now looking forward to starting my 3rd book, set in the 90s, where rave culture is going to play a major role - and I’ll start by hooking up to YouTube again, to source a few nostalgic acid house parties.

To conclude, I cannot emphasis the importance of doing research. It is fun, interesting and at times, extremely inspiring. It throws up new ideas, you might never have discovered and all this has been a key ingredient, to injecting my stories with a sense of realism.

Helen J. Christmas lives on the south coast of England, with her husband. She has a passion for gripping stories with strong characters and with a love of writing since childhood, started her own series of books titled 'Same Face Different Place'. Her first book 'Beginnings' is a tense thriller combined with a love story, set in 1970s London. Helen finished her second book. 'Visions', in 2013 - a psychological thriller set in the 1980s around the counties of London and Kent.

Writing is something she juggles around her family and social life as well as running the web design company, she and her husband set up together, from home.

Her other hobbies include long country walks with her husband, friends from their walking group based in Sussex and their dog Barney. She also enjoys gardening, cooking, entertaining and reading - has a love simple pleasures, especially exploring Britain and its lovely towns, coasts and countryside.

Useful Links:

Helen Christmas's website here:  Includes useful information on both books and a free extract to read or download.

Twitter: @SFDPBeginnings


Beginnings (Same Face Different Place Book 1) here

Visions (Same Face Different Place Book 2) here

Thursday, 3 October 2013

The Clanking Rose

For the last few days there has been a noise outside on our street reminiscent of the type of clanking you would expect to hear in a marina. Last night the wind got up outside and I barely slept with this noise tolling away, every time I thought it had stopped it was off again.

This morning I decided enough was enough and called the relevant company to come and take a look. After the usual 'We now have sixteen thousand options for you, please listen carefully before you make your choice as these options may have changed' and 'Did you know you can report a fault online, go to www.wedonotwanttotalktoyou.co.uk', I was trying to remember I was a lady. When the line was finally answered it took a good twenty minutes to take my details. A thinly veiled attempt to get my ex-directory number off me was made by telling me my address would give it to them anyway (why ask then?) and finally I had done my civic duty. I was told they would be out within the next four to twenty four hours (!). Twenty minutes later I was impressed to find the workman on my doorstep. This is how it went.

"Was it you who reported a fault?" 

"Yes, I think your equipment may be faulty, it's making a loud metallic clanking noise."


"Sorry, what was that? Can't hear you above the noise!"

"Said I can't hear nuffink!"

"The clanking noise? It's really quite loud!" I said, pointing upward.

With this he looked skyward, doing a good impression of a man with severe constipation and wiped his nose on the back of his sleeve.

"I can 'ear a dog whinin', is that what you mean, sweetheart?"

A dog whining. Yes, that must be it. A metal dog stuck in a tree. Whining. And he called me sweetheart.

"No, that's my dog who is in the kitchen. I am talking about the loud noise I am intermittently shouting over so you can hear me. The loud metallic sound? The clanking?"

"Sorry, love, I can only hear cars. Noisy road, ain't it?"

"Yes, yes it is. Look come in and you can listen from inside, maybe that will help?"

Yes, I know. Of course it wasn't going to help. The noise was outside, we were indoors but I was desperate, I wanted the clanking gone and peace to reign. Well, just the sound of the 'M25' anyway. It's comforting.

So in he came and stood at the window. The clank clanked, he listened hard and then suddenly...

"Ah, you mean that high pitched whistle?"

The look on my face must have led him to think otherwise as he edged toward the door and said he would have a look outside now he knew what sort of thing to listen out for. I watched as he walked up and down the pavement, round the back of the house, round the front again until he disappeared from view. He popped up by the flower beds and knocked on the window.

"I think I have solved it, darlin', it's your rose bush."

By this time I was beginning to think one of us was slightly unhinged. The clanking continued as he shouted above it to be heard. He grasped the offending rose bush and shook it so hard it dropped its remaining foliage in shock and let out a pitiful squeak as it was rubbed against the brickwork in a way it hadn't felt since it was a mere cutting and was fending off weeds to make itself known. 

"My rose bush? My ROSE BUSH is making that appalling racket?"

"Yeah, listen, babe, can't you hear it?"

He shook it again even more vigorously and I started to look around for the TV cameras, not quite believing he was serious.

"You actually believe my rose bush, or what's left of it, is responsible for the metallic clanking noise which is particularly loud right at this very moment? You can't hear it?"

He answered in the negative and I asked him to wait whilst I telephoned my other half. I needed back up before I said something really quite rude or worse reached for something heavy to use. Once I had enlightened my OH, I passed the phone over to the workman, whose face paled as he listened to my favourite Italian conversing in a way only he can when he has a snit on. After a moment the workman passed the phone back and quietly went about checking the apparatus he had come to see. 

My poor rose bush isn't emitting anything at all now, not even a spark of life, but the clanking has gone. So has the workman who left rather speedily with only a swift backward glance at my rose bush which he had left hanging over the footpath, foliage scattered.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Goodness, Grace and Me by Julie Houston

Harriet's husband Nick decides to leave his job and go into business with a man whom Harriet has heard can be less than reliable and she soon discovers his wife is her former head girl at school who broke her brother's heart and now seems intent on stealing her husband, Nick. Harriet's best friend Grace is reeling after her husband leaves her for a younger model but quickly recovers as she takes up with the son of her former school nemesis. If that wasn't enough, Harriet's mother is going senile and can't seem to remember the names of her own children and Harriet is left as the breadwinner in a house full of teenagers and a mother-in-law who never thought she was good enough in the first place.

I really enjoyed this witty book, it had everything needed for the perfect comedy romance; good friends, handsome men and a woman who is barely holding it together as her life lurches from one potential crisis to another. There were lots of laugh-out-loud moments and clever one liners. Harriet is an absolute joy, very believable and I loved the humour this character had. 

I think Julie Houston has written a bit of a winner with this and it is hard to believe this is her first book. I will be looking out for the next one with genuine anticipation.

Buy Goodness, Grace and Me

Julie Houston's Website

Twitter: @JulieHouston2