It’s interview time again, and I’m delighted to welcome Claire Morley to my blog for a cuppa and a chat. Why not put those feet up and join us?
What inspired you to write your book?
In November 2013, Super Typhoon Yolanda slammed into the Philippines. I had wanted to do some volunteer work for a long time but circumstances had never allowed until March 2014, when I set off for Tacloban, the city worst hit by this natural disaster.
I wanted to make people aware of the aftermath of the typhoon and initially thought I would write articles for various publications and with that in mind took thousands of photographs and interviewed over 40 survivors, volunteers and relief workers. On my return to Cyprus (where I live) my partner suggested I take the information I had gathered and turn it into a fictional novel instead. It took me a year to research and write, but Tindog Tacloban was the result.
Do you model any of your characters after people you know? If so, do these people see themselves in your characters?
Actually one of the main characters, Helen, is slightly modelled on myself, she too is volunteering for the first time, although she achieves a lot more than I did!!
What type of research did you have to do for your book?
Obviously from some aspects, the research was done in the field, as I was actually there and witnessing the aftermath of the typhoon. However, it was the interviews which gave me the first-hand knowledge of what living through a typhoon was really like, and I did weeks of research on how typhoons work. I also contacted an organization which is fighting to raise awareness of Webcam Sex Tourism and they very kindly send me their reports on the work they are doing, so I could talk about it realistically.
Do you prefer to plot your story or just go with the flow?
I think I employed a bit of both for Tindog Tacloban. I initially had an idea of where the story was going and had a timeline, but as I wrote it built up its own flow. I swim every day and that was a great time for me to work out how build on the plot and the characters and when I got stuck, I would sit with my partner and a glass of wine in the evenings and we would discuss how I might get from one aspect of the book to the next.
What is your writing regime?
I wrote every day, I had a number of words in mind, sometimes it was hard work to reach it and quite frankly, sometimes it was utter rubbish, but other days the words flowed and I could get much more written. The idea was to keep a momentum, knowing how easy it would be to let things slide if I didn’t write one day and before you know it a week can pass. So I did try to be very disciplined.
What excites you the most about your book?
The fact that I actually wrote a whole book. I’m not always good at finishing things I start!! And that it has made people aware of a form of human trafficking, which I hadn’t heard of until I attended a workshop in Tacloban. I detest human exploitation, so if I can do anything to raise awareness of something like this, it’s a good thing.
Anything else you’d like to share with us?
All money raised from sales of Tindog Tacloban go to the charities I worked with while I was there, so I am continuing to help the people whose lives were affected by Super Typhoon Yolanda.
ABOUT THE BOOK
In the aftermath of the fiercest typhoon on record to hit land, banners bearing the words Tindog Tacloban started to appear all over the city. Meaning Rise Up Tacloban, they were a testament to the determination and resilience of the Filipino people as they tried to rebuild their shattered lives.
For many, things would never be the same:
Izel Sombilon watched in horror as two of his children were ripped from his arms and swept away by the huge storm waves
Eleven year old Lika Faye was plunged into the sordid underworld of Webcam Child Sex Tourism.
For Helen Gable volunteering in the typhoon ravaged area was a chance for her to come to terms with her own personal tragedy.
Twitter: clairemorley @clairemorley15
Claire Morley lives in North Cyprus with her dog, cat and partner, Steve.
In her previous life she has been a marketer, a journalist and a wedding planner.
Tindog Tacloban is her first novel and was inspired by a trip to the Philippines as a volunteer to help after the devastating typhoon known locally as Yolanda hit Tacloban on 8 November, 2013 and of from this book will go to benefit charities working to stop human trafficking and helping in disaster areas.
Many thanks for a great interview Claire,
Happy reading everyone,
I’m delighted to bring you the blurb, and an exclusive extract, from the first novel to leave the well aimed pen of my lovely friend, Laura Wilkinson.
Set in a much-changed Britain in the mid-twenty-first century, The Family Line is the debut novel from acclaimed writer Laura Wilkinson, now revised and proudly reissued by Accent Press. An original exploration of identity, love and what it means to be a parent.
Three women. One secret. A child with a deadly disease
Megan is a former foreign correspondent whose life is thrown into turmoil when her son is diagnosed with a terminal illness: a degenerative disease passed down the mother’s line. In order to save him, Megan will have to unearth the truth about her origins and about a catastrophic event from the past. She must confront the strained relationship she has with her mother, make sense of the family history that has been hidden from her all her life, and embark on a journey of self-discovery that stretches halfway around the world.
An exclusive extract:
Megan sat alone outside the office of an eminent doctor resident at the hospital. It was nine fifteen; her appointment had been scheduled for nine o’clock. She was grateful for the reprieve and didn’t understand why she didn’t want to go in.
She wore heeled sandals and a knee-length dress, cut from black cotton with bracelet sleeves and a slash neck. Her cheeks were dusted with a soft pink blush and her lips coated in a sheer gloss. She had looked elegant and quite lovely in her bedroom mirror but now she felt overdressed and wished she had worn her regulation black jeans. She had been keen to make a good impression, but she resented this desire to impress. What was she trying to prove? That she was a good mother? Surely only a vain, selfish woman would be concerned about appearance when discussing her child’s development? She wiped away the gloss with the back of her hand. She studied her pale shins, the blue veins visible beneath the surface in the harsh hospital light. A nurse told her the consultant was ready. Megan took a deep breath and stood.
He faced the window, his back to the door, and looked out onto a pleasant garden bordered with hydrangeas, hebe and St John’s Wort. The air was cool in the sparse, smart office though Megan felt perspiration gathering under her arms and across her brow with every click of her heels on the floor. The doctor commented on the fine weather, reminding her that each day comes but once, never to return, and as such should be treasured. Platitudes. She looked at the garden. It was beautiful but nothing compared to her boy.
When the doctor finally spun his chair to face her, Megan knew the news wasn’t good, and though her stomach churned she told herself it would not be anything insurmountable. After all, this wasn’t oncology or the ER. After asking her to take a seat, Mr Barnet, a phlegmatic, saturnine individual, informed her that Cerdic had a rare congenital condition, a hereditary disease, passed from mother to son, which would rob Cerdic’s body of its ability to function. ‘AMNA. It stands for Alekseyev Motor Neuron Atrophy, named after the Russian scientist who first discovered the defective gene. For reasons that have never been quite explained the condition appears to be more prevalent amongst the peoples of the East, the Slavs in particular,’ he said.
Megan’s mouth dried, her lips seemed to be welded together. She struggled to push the words out. ‘How serious is it?’
‘Very. I am sorry.’
‘What will it do to him?’ She could feel the thick white spit at the corners of her mouth. She went to wipe it away and realised that her hands were shaking.
‘It starts in the muscles as cells break down and are gradually lost. The muscles weaken over time. Your son has trouble jumping and climbing, yes?’ He didn’t wait for a reply. ‘By five years old AMNA boys are unable to walk far, and by seven or eight most are in a wheelchair. Nerve cells in the brain weaken, eventually failing to send messages to muscles and other vital organs like the lungs. Sufferers lose control of their bodies and minds. The average life expectancy …’ Megan watched his mouth move without hearing more words. Sunlight illuminated his form and she felt angry with the sun for shining.
‘How long do we have?’
He curled his lips inward. ‘If he reaches sixteen, it will be a miracle, of sorts,’ he said, delivering the news as if it were quotidian, finishing with a standard, ‘Do you have any further questions?’
Megan experienced a sensation similar, she imagined, to being eviscerated. It was as if he had ripped out her intestines, thrown them to the floor and squashed them underfoot, before asking if there was anything he could do to help with the pain.
She remembered the night Cerdic was born. Sweltering and still. Even the sea was silent. She stayed up all night, her body throbbing, unable to take her eyes from him, afraid that if she blinked he would disappear as miraculously as he had arrived. She remembered how, when he was tiny and slept in a cot in her room, she would wake to the sound of silence and rush to his bedside, placing a palm in front of his mouth, checking he still breathed. Like all mothers in the black moments she imagined a hundred ways he might be taken from her but nothing like this. She never, ever, imagined this.
Reeling from the shock, and working hard to control her spiralling emotions and liquid gut, she said, ‘There must be something we can do.’
‘As you will appreciate much research was abandoned, or more accurately put on hold, after 2025. Cerdic’s condition is, mercifully, extremely rare, and as such it has not been high priority for many, many years. In the past decade research has restarted. But it is a slow process, Mrs Evens.’ He returned to his garden as he spoke, and Megan thought there was nothing merciful about this disease.
‘Has this research thrown anything up yet?’ she said, adding, ‘It’s Miss Evens.’
Mr Barnet commented on a blackbird that hopped on the lawn before replying with indistinct mumblings.
Megan’s patience evaporated though she believed the consultant’s rudeness was not deliberate. She pressed for a clear reply.
‘There are signs to indicate that matching stem cell and blood plasma transplants, from suitable donors, can slow the progression of the disease. It works best if the donors are relatives, close relatives. Scientists believe they can stop the disease in its tracks altogether if administered early enough with a perfectly matched donor though there is no conclusive proof as yet.’
‘It is worth a try, Mr Barnet.’
‘Worth a try.’ He nodded absentmindedly.
‘Then we try it.’ Megan’s tone was polite but firm – this was not a request.
‘There is no sibling?’
The consultant spoke of the viability of samples from her, Cerdic’s father, compatibility. He explained that it was most unusual, unheard of, for the mother, the carrier, to match, to be a suitable donor. She knew he meant no malice or blame – why would he? – but it pained her nevertheless. He rambled on, explaining the minutiae of technical detail. She twisted the ring on her left hand. Her mind flooded with images of Hisham. She would have to contact him. She knew there would be no question of him not helping but she allowed herself the irrational hope that contacting Hisham might not be necessary, that she might be the one in a million, in a manner of speaking. She left Mr Barnet’s office brim full of fear and hope, clutching a referral and a name for her son’s killer.
To buy: http://amzn.to/2ahSStC
Praise for the first edition:
Wilkinson ably navigates the tender, sometimes fraught exchanges between her protagonists. Though its scope is ambitious, and could easily have veered off-course, deft interweaving of complex themes makes for a haunting début.’ For Books’ Sake.
‘This is a compelling story that raises important issues and will linger in the mind long after the last page has been turned.’ Joanna Caney, New Books Magazine.
‘This mind-blowingly original novel asks big questions about a woman’s right to choose when to have children… Ultimately, it questions how far is too far… This is a book that will haunt your dreams.’Pam McIlroy, Books at Broadway.
‘ This is an interesting and emotional début, and is highly recommended.’ Michelle Moore, Book Club Forum.
‘… a fantastic debut novel which surpassed my expectations. I totally agree with one Amazon reviewer; this has got BBC 3-part drama written all over it! Simply fabulous!’ Kirsty, Book Love Bug.
After working an actress and journalist, now Laura writes novels and short stories. She is published by award-winning independent press, Accent. Her novel, Public Battles, Private Wars, was a Welsh Books Council Book of the month; Redemption Song, is an insightful look at learning to forgive and love again after significant loss. The Family Line is set in a near future Wales and looks at identity and parenting. ‘It will haunt your dreams’ Books at Broadway. Alongside writing, she works as an editor for literary consultancies, Cornerstones and The Writing Coach, and runs workshops on self-editing and the art of fiction. She’s spoken at festivals and events nationwide, including London Metropolitan University, GladLit, University of Kingston, The Women’s Library and Museum in Docklands. www.laura-wilkinson.co.uk Twitter @ScorpioScribble Facebook: Laura Wilkinson Author
Happy reading everyone,
I love this guest post! Carol McGrath has given us a wonderful insight into some of the stories that set her on her own writing path. For me it was Robin Hood who made me pick up a pen, for Carol it was…Well why not grab a cuppa, put your feet up, and come and find out.
Over to you Carol…
I am delighted to be asked by Jenny to talk a little about books that I have loved in my youth and how these tales inspired me to write- even the novel that I amused myself writing, aged nine years old.
For those reading this, my novels are stories of real historical persons infused with a sense of adventure. I mix real historical characters who are researched with invented characters. The imagined personalities come from deep inside me, from the imaginative pool that grew out of my early reading tastes. Both The Handfasted Wife and The Betrothed Sister, historical novels about the noble women who survived the Battle of Hastings, contain a skald, poet and spy, as their most significant secondary character. His name is Padar.
Padar grew out of my youthful love of the Robin Hood legends, a passion I know that Jenny and I share. Padar owns rebellious characteristics, and becomes outlawed after The Battle of Hastings. Following the Norman Conquest he is constantly in danger. He is a small man in stature, clever, independent and resourceful. When Padar is charged by King Harold to watch over his wife and younger children, after the king’s defeat and death at Senlac, he travels with King Harold’s handfasted wife, Elditha (Edith Swan-Neck) to Ireland where she hopes to reach her sons, help them rebel against Norman rule and reclaim their lands. In The Betrothed Sister, Padar sails with Elditha’s daughter Thea (Gita) into Rus lands where her cousin, King Sweyn of Denmark, has arranged her marriage to a prince of Kiev. Padar, too, finds romance.
The earliest novel I attempted to write was based on Enid Blyton’s Famous Five. I was nine years old, recovering from mumps, living with my family in a lonely home in the country. My childhood oeuvre was another adventure for George, Ann, Julian, Dick and Timmy the dog, set in a haunted house in Donegal- one we fantasised about on childhood holidays. The mountains lay behind and the sea in front so there was lots to imagine- lights flashing at night in the mountains, smugglers on the island we could see from the cottage we rented. I wrote in chapters and with pen and ink- laboriously in one of my Dad’s Ministry of Agriculture notebooks. Goodness knows what became of that valiant effort.
As an older child, I was influenced by writers such as Jane Lane and Geoffrey Treece. I had to read from my version of The Children’s Crusade out to an inspector who came to my school- another brave attempt to write a short novel. I loved The Rider of the White Horse by Rosemary Sutcliff. It is about Thomas Fairfax, a Parliamentarian military leader during The English Civil War and it gave me an interest in the period. I also read many classics. Jane Eyre was, and still remains my favourite. During my teens, I read everything I could borrow from the library by Jean Plaidy, Anya Seton and Margaret Irwin. Probably Seton’s Katherine stands out as a long-time influence on my writing today.
Although my main degree is in English and Russian Studies, Medieval History was my subsidiary subject. It is such a strange world, accessible and inaccessible both, a truly foreign country, yet all around us. I have long enjoyed medieval romance as well as the history which reaches into the early Tudor period with its guilds, feast days, superstition, beautiful manuscript work and so on. I jump forward in time now, however because Thomas Hardy was my specialist English degree subject and he gave me a love for landscape and memorable female characters. Yet I also loved William Faulkner and E.M. Foster. Moreover, I read Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago over and over. It was just so romantic, a novel that contains the perfect mix of sweeping historical event and romance.
Of course, my early stories were never published. Nor did I ever imagine I would one day be published. It was many, many years later that I began to write seriously. Mine was a long apprenticeship involving an MA in creative writing and an MPhil, short story writing, plays and poetry. Yet, I have never forgotten my very early writing experiences or all those wonderful novels I enjoyed reading in my youth. And so, if Padar has been an enduring secondary character in The Handfasted Wife, truthfully he grew out of my love for Robin Hood and stories of high adventure. I would say that my love of writing and for creativity has its foundations in my early reading and a fabulously imaginative childhood that allowed me so much time to read.
Carol McGrath lives in Oxfordshire with her family. She has an MA in Creative Writing from The Seamus Heaney Centre, Queens University Belfast, followed by an MPhil in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her debut novel, The Handfasted Wife, first in a trilogy about the royal women of 1066 entitled The Daughters of Hastings, was shortlisted for the RoNAS, 2014 in the historical category. The Swan-Daughter and The Betrothed Sister followed to complete this best-selling trilogy. Carol is the co-ordinator of the Historical Novels Association Conference Oxford September 2016. Find Carol on her website:
Thank you Carol. It never ceases to amaze me the reach that some stories (in our cases, those of Robin Hood), have. Writing something that touches generations of people must be a truly magical feeling.
Happy reading everyone,
Forgive the major brevity of this blog post lovely readers. I am currently engaged in a battle with a flu virus which is currently- I’m sad to say- ahead on points! (Not had a cup of coffee in 6 days. My family are all wearing hard hats and carrying shields in case I crack at any moment.)
This being the case, I am trying to take it easy- but I couldn’t wait another moment before I told you some very good news!
The most popular of all my bestselling books – Abi’s House– is to go on sale in Turkey! Who could have guessed that what the good people of Turkey craved was a feel good Cornish romance, with added coffee, and a side order of fish and chips?
I am thrilled to bits! can’t wait to see what the Turkish version looks like when it comes out!!!
Anyway- I just wanted to pop my head out from the duvet to share this with you. Off to bed again now. Presuming I don’t still have flu, then the edits to the sequel of Abi’s House (Abi’s Neighbour), will begin in earnest very soon. You can read part two of the adventure’s of Abi Carter, Max, Beth, and Jake in Sumer 2017.
In the meantime, you can find Abi’s House here- (as well as in all good bookshops)-
MELODY BITTERSWEET AND THE GIRLS’ GHOSTBUSTING AGENCY by Kitty French
An absolutely hilarious, totally entertaining, spookily sexy read that you won’t be able to put down!
Life’s tricky for Melody Bittersweet. She’s single, she’s addicted to sugar and super heroes, her family are officially bonkers and … she sees dead people. Is it any wonder no-one’s swiping right on Tinder?
Waking up lonely on her twenty-seventh birthday, Melody finally snaps. She can’t carry on basing all of her life decisions on the advice of her magic 8 ball; things havegot to change.
Fast forward two months, and she’s now the proud proprietor of her very own ghostbusting agency – kind of like in the movies but without the dodgy white jumpsuits. She’s also flirting with her ex Leo Dark, fraternising with her sexy enemy in alleyways, and she’s somehow ended up with a pug called Lestat.
Life just went from dull to dynamite and it’s showing no sign of slowing up anytime soon. Melody’s been hired to clear Scarborough House of its incumbent ghosts, there’s the small matter of a murder to solve, and then there are the two very handsome, totally inappropriate men hoping to distract her from the job…
Welcome to Chapelwick, home of the brand new and hilarious Girls Ghostbusting Agency series, where things really do go bump in the night.
‘So, what do you do with your spare time, Melody?’
I look my date square in his pretty brown eyes and lie to him. ‘Oh, you know. The usual.’ I shrug to convey how incredibly normal I am. ‘I read a lot . . . Go to the movies. That kind of thing.’
I watch Lenny digest my words, and breathe a sigh of relief when his eyes brighten.
‘Movies or books?’ I ask, stalling for time because, in truth, I don’t get much in the way of spare time to do either.
‘Movies. Action or romance? No, let me guess.’ He narrows his eyes and studies me intently. ‘You look like a sucker for a rom-com.’
‘Do I?’ I’m genuinely surprised. I’m five foot three and look more like Wednesday Addams than a Disney princess. Maybe Wednesday Addams is over-egging it, but you get the idea; I’m brunette and my dress sense errs on the side of edgy. I don’t think anyone has ever looked at me and thought whimsy. Maybe Lenny sees something everyone else has missed, me included. I quite like that idea, mainly because everyone who knows my family has a head full of preconceptions about me, based on the fact that my family are all crackers.
‘Four Weddings?’ He shrugs hopefully.
I nod, not mentioning that the only part of that particular movie I enjoyed was the funeral.
Again, I try to look interested and hold my tongue, because I’m sure he doesn’t want to hear that I’d rather stick needles in my eyes than ever watch an over-optimistic Kate Winslet drag some old guy around a swimming pool again.
I’m relieved when the bill arrives and we can get out of there, because so far Lenny has turned out to be a pretty stellar guy and somehow I’ve managed to convince him that I walk on the right side of the tracks. Maybe this time, things will be different.
Lenny pulls his dull, salesman’s saloon into the cobbled cartway beside my building and kills the engine. I don’t mind dull. In fact, my life could really use a bit of dull right now, so I shoot him my most seductive smile, cross my fingers that my mother will be in bed, and invite him in for coffee.
Oh, just when it had all been going so well. Why couldn’t I have just given him a goodnight kiss, with maybe the smallest hint of tongue as a promise, then sent him on his way? He’d have called for a second date, I’m sure of it.
But no. I got greedy, pulled him by the hand through the dark back door, placing my finger against my lips to signal he should be quiet as we tip-toed past my mother’s apartment and up the old wooden staircase to my place.
He rests his hand on my waist as I turn the key, and a small thrill shoots down my back. Look at me, winning at this being-an-adult thing today! Dinner with an attractive man, sparkling conversation, and now back to mine for coffee . . . and maybe even a little fooling around. It’s not that I’m a virgin or anything, but it would be fair to call my love life patchy of late. By ‘of late’ I mean the last two years, ever since Leo Dark and I called things off. Well, by Leo and I, I mean Leo called things off, citing conflict of interests. Ha. Given that he was referring to the fact that my mad-as-a-bag-of-cats family are the only other psychics in town besides him, he was, at least in part, right.
But enough of Leo and my lamentable love life. Right now, all I want is for Lenny not to know anything at all about my peculiar family, to keep seeing me as a cool, regular, completely normal girl, and then to kiss me.
‘You remind me of Clara Oswald,’ Lenny whispers behind me at the top of the stairs. ‘All big brown eyes and clever one-liners. It’s very sexy.’
Lord, I think he’s just brushed a kiss against the back of my neck! My door sticks sometimes so I shoulder it open, aiming for firm and graceful but, I fear, ending up looking more like a burly police SWAT guy ramming it down. Thankfully, Lenny seems to take it in his stride and follows me into my apartment. Then I flick on the table lamp only to discover that my mother is standing on my coffee table in a too-short, too-sheer, baby-blue negligee with her arms raised towards the ceiling and her head thrown back.
‘Shit!’ Lenny swears down my ear, clearly startled. He isn’t to blame. My mother’s a striking woman, ballerina-tall and slender with silver hair that falls in waves well beyond her shoulder blades. It isn’t grey. It’s been pure silver since the day she was born, and right now she looks as if she’s just been freshly crucified on my coffee table.
I sigh as I drop my bag down by the lamp. So much for me being normal.
Slowly, she takes several heaving breaths and opens her eyes, changing from crazy lady to almost normal human lady. She stares at us.
‘For God’s sake, Melody,’ she grumbles, taking her hands from above her head and planting them on her hips. ‘I almost had the connection then. He’s hiding out in the loft, I’m sure of it.’
I risk a glance over my shoulder at Lenny, who sure isn’t kissing my neck anymore.
He lifts his eyebrows at me, a silent ‘what the hell?’ and then looks away when my mother beckons to him like a siren luring a fisherman onto the rocks.
‘Your hand, please, young man.’
‘No!’ I almost yell, but Lenny is already across the room with his hand out to help her down. My mother eyes me slyly as she steps from the table, keeping a firm hold of Lenny’s hand.
‘Long lifeline,’ she murmurs, tracing her red talon across Lenny’s palm.
‘Mother,’ I warn, but my somber, cautionary tone falls on her selectively deaf ears. I expected nothing else, because she’s pulled this trick before. Admittedly, the standing-on-the-table thing is a new twist, but she’s got form in scoping out my prospective boyfriends to make sure they’ll fit in with our screwball family from the outset. Not that her romantic gauge is something to put any stock in; Leo passed her tests with flying colours and look how that ended up. I got my heart broken and he got a spot on morning TV as the resident psychic. Where’s the justice in that?
Look, we may as well get the clanky old skeleton out of the family closet early on here, people. It’s going to come out sooner or later, and despite my attempts to pull the wool over Lenny’s eyes, there’s never any running away from this thing for long.
My name’s Melody Bittersweet, and I see dead people.
It’s not only me. I’m just the latest in a long line of Bittersweets to have the gift, or the curse, depending on how you look at it. My family has long since celebrated our weirdness; hence the well-established presence of our family business, Blithe Spirits, on Chapelwick High Street. We’ve likely been here longer than the actual chapel at the far end of the street. That’s probably why, by and large, we’re accepted by the residents of the town, in a ‘they’re a bunch of eccentrics, but they’re our bunch of eccentrics,’ kind of way. What began as a tiny, mullion-windowed, one-room shop has spread out along the entire row over the last two hundred years; we now own a run of three terraced properties haphazardly knocked into one, big, rambling place that is both business and home to not only me, but also to my mother, Silvana, and her mother, Dicey. Gran’s name isn’t actually Dicey, it’s Paradise, officially, but she’s gone by Dicey ever since she met my Grandpa Duke on her fifteenth birthday and he wrote Dicey and Duke inside a chalk heart on the back wall of the building. He may as well have written it on her own racing heart.
Speak of the devil. Does no one go to bed around here?
I open my door to find Gran on the threshold with her hand raised, poised to knock. I guess I should be glad she’s slightly more respectably dressed, if a floor-length, purple shot-silk kimono, bearing huge technicolor dragons could be considered as such. Her usually pin-curled gold hair is piled elegantly on her head and she wears a slash of fire-engine-scarlet lipstick for good measure. Most people couldn’t carry the look off, but thanks to her poise, confidence and couldn’t-care-less attitude, Grandma Dicey wears it with artful success. She glides past me without invitation and gazes at my mother and Lenny, who are still hand-in-hand on the rug.
First thing tomorrow morning, I swear, I’m going to look for a new place to live, somewhere, anywhere, that is not in the same building as my mother and my gran. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a charming old place and I love my family dearly. It’s not even as if I don’t have my own space here, because, theoretically at least, I do. Mum and Gran have the ground floor apartment behind Blithe Spirits, and I have the smaller flat upstairs, at the back. In lots of ways this makes me fortunate; I get to have a nice little home of my own and stay close to my family. It would all be fine and dandy, were it not for the fact that my family are officially bonkers and liable to come up and let themselves into my flat – using the spare key I gave them for dire emergencies only – and embarrass the shit out if me.
‘Why is Silvana entertaining a man half her age in your flat?’ Gran looks from me to my mother. ‘You should have said you were expecting company, darling. I’d have gone out.’ She touches her hand lightly against her hair. ‘Put a towel on the doorknob or something, isn’t that the modern way to signal these things? Don’t come a knockin’ if the caravan’s rockin’?’
She looks spectacularly pleased with herself, and one glance at Lenny tells me that he knows he’s way out of his depth with these two and is in the process of writing me off as the worst date he’s ever had. His eyes slide from me to the door, and I can almost hear him begging me to let him go unharmed.
‘He’s not mum’s date, he’s mine. Or else, he was,’ I mutter, and then I’m distracted as a beer-bellied pensioner in a soup-stained shirt slowly materialises through the ceiling, his flannel trousers not quite meeting his bony ankles. Stay with me; I see dead people, remember? As do my mother and my grandmother, who also watch him descend with matching expressions of distaste.
‘Finally,’ my mother spits, dropping Lenny’s hand so she can round on the new arrival. ‘Two hours I’ve been chasing you around this bloody building. Your wife wants to know what you’ve done with the housekeeping she’d hidden in the green teapot. She says you better not have lost it on the horses or she’s had it with you.’
Grandma Dicey rolls her eyes. ‘I rather think she’s had it with him anyway. He’s been dead for six weeks.’
‘You’re a fine one to talk, given that you still sleep with your husband twenty years after he died.’ Mother flicks her silver hair sharply. Touché.
Lenny whimpers and bolts for my front door, turning back to me just long enough to splutter ‘something’s come up, gotta go,’ before he hoofs it out and down the stairs two at a time.
I listen to the outside door bang on its hinges and wonder what came up. Probably his dinner.
It’s interview time on my blog today. I’m delighted to welcome Julie Ann Corrigan over for coffee and cake, and to talk about her brand new book, Falling Suns.
What inspired you to write your book?
I was inspired initially by the overwhelming and horrible thought of something terrible happening to my child and how I would cope, especially if the perpetrator of the crime ended up being someone known to the family. Once I had decided whom the perpetrator would be in my fictional story I then became inspired to explore both mental illness and institutional corruption.
Do you model any of your characters after people you know? If so, do these people see themselves in your characters?
There are some aspects of Rachel that I do recognise in myself, but unsure what that says about me!
When I began writing Falling Suns, and as I began to draw the characters, I think that more than taking the templates from one individual character, I drew characteristics from a number of people I’ve come across in my life. For example, Michael Hemmings is very much a mixture of patients I did come into contact with as a student physiotherapist working within mental health; although I have to add here, I never met one as psychotic as Hemmings, thank goodness!
Mrs Xú is very much like a few Chinese alternative therapists I have met. Stanley resembles a drama teacher who once taught me, but he is also like someone else I once knew ..
Which Point of View do you prefer to write in and why?
I think my natural point-of-view is first person and past tense. However, recently (but not in Falling Suns) I have started experimenting with present tense. Interestingly, when I first started writing I always wrote in third person and past tense.
What I’ve learnt is that once you start writing the story whether in a novel or short work, the storyline and tone will often dictate which tense and point-of-view to use.
Do you prefer to plot your story or just go with the flow?
I plot the beginning, middle and end, and then I fill in the rest! Generally I do go with the flow, but I do have four or five plot points that I use to build my story around. And as I write, often the plot might change, or I will add aspects that weren’t apparent to me when I first began the story.
If you were stranded on a desert island with three other people, fictional or real, who would they be and why?
The Dalai Lama. He has such a lovely open face and talks such sense.
Usain Bolt. So I could admire his body all day!
Adele. She comes across as so much fun, so down-to-earth. And I will never tire of listening to her voice and lyrics.
I feel I should have a writer on this list. DM Thomas. The White Hotel is my favourite book of all time and I once spoke with him via email, and I know he would never bore me.
Falling Suns – Extract
Liam and I found ourselves outside the court building, greeted by a muddy sky that was still visible in the wispy fog of the late afternoon. It had rained continuously for the last forty-eight hours, but as we caught sight of the insatiable media the downpour was the least of our problems.
I pulled my wool beret over courtroom warm ears and looked down towards the slippery wet ground. Our barrister had told us to say nothing, which was physically easy, as I felt I would never speak again. For the past seven weeks the dry atmosphere of the courtroom had robbed me of a proper voice, as Hemmings’ act had robbed me of a proper life. Tom Gillespie caught Liam’s arm, whispering things that I didn’t even try to catch. My existence seemed to be disappearing into a void; the small bit of life that Hemmings had left for me, plucked away during the trial.
I loitered in the entrance of the court building, thinking that I would smell Joe. I did not. A coolness ran through me, a purl of motion in between the crevices of my spine.
Joe wasn’t with me.
As we left, Tom squeezed my arm lightly but didn’t attempt to give me a familiar kiss on the cheek. Liam and I had slowed down his investigation by holding back information about Joe’s state of mind the day he had run, and in so doing we had compromised our relationship with him. In my previous life, I’d been talking to Tom about going back to work. Once upon a time that thought had excited me.
Tom walked quickly to a waiting car. He slipped into the driver’s seat and glanced towards me, nodding slightly. He wanted to get away.
I felt a gentle jab in my back. It was Jonathan. I’d hardly spoken to him throughout the trial. As I turned towards him, so did Liam, his face sullen.
‘You need to get away from here as quickly as possible.’ Jonathan smiled thinly. ‘Can’t take away the nature of the vulture. I should know.’
‘We’re fine, Jonathan. Rachel knows how to handle this stuff,’ Liam said.
‘Does she, Liam?’ Jonathan said quietly.
Very obviously Liam elbowed past him, only to move a few inches nearer to the street.
‘We’re just about to leave, Jonathan,’ I said. ‘Are you free to come over? I’ve hardly seen you …’ I didn’t care what Liam thought. Not anymore.
At that moment in my peripheral vision I caught sight of my dad and mother leaving too. Dad saw me and moved his head towards the car park, indicating that he’d accompany Margaret to the car and then return. I couldn’t face her, and the silent accusation that this was all my fault.
Joe’s murder was somehow my fault.
I looked at Jonathan. ‘Come over, please?’ To Liam I said: ‘Can we wait for Dad?’
‘The place is crawling with press.’ Liam said. ‘We need 41
to go.’ He cast his eyes around. ‘Too late.’ Already journalists surrounded us. I recognised a few from the local papers, the nationals, too. Flashes and tussling ensued as our barrister made his way forward. Sean Skerrit, QC for the Crown Prosecution Service was older than he looked, something that I think went against him in court. I’d always felt the jury resented a young prosecution, especially if the jury was mainly young, which this one had been.
Sean directed his speech towards Liam and I felt invisible, useless, but too tired to complain. ‘I intend to give a statement.’ Sean said to Liam. ‘You and Rachel go home. I’ll call later. Better I do this alone.’
‘This means a life sentence?’ I asked Sean, hope in my voice.
He grimaced. ‘A do-good mental health tribunal could well decide to let him out within five years, if he plays the game.’ He caught my eye. ‘But hopefully that won’t be the case.’
‘But it could be the case … couldn’t it?’
‘I hope not, Rachel,’ Sean said, with leaden heaviness in his voice. I’d got the distinct impression that Sean Skerrit QC didn’t like to lose, and had taken Hemmings’ sentence as a direct affront to his professional agility.
Did I think of revenge then? Deep inside I think I did.
Sean ran slender and well-manicured fingers through his mane. Not one grey hair in his boot-polish black hair. He turned slightly to accommodate a photographer, and looking at the lens said to me: ‘We’ll talk later.’
‘I’ll come over, Rachel,’ Jonathan said, ‘just for a short time. I have to be back in London.’ He was already moving away.
‘Good,’ I said to Jonathan’s back.
My dad had made his way over. He wavered and I recognised the vacillation with which I’d grown up. I guessed my mother wanted to talk to me, but I had no intention of going to my childhood home today to argue with her. Not today.
‘Your mum wants to talk to you,’ Dad said. I sighed. ‘I’ll come over tomorrow. I promise, I will.’ ‘She’s asked me to bring her over to yours … now.
She’s waiting in the car.’ He pulled at the sleeve of his jacket.
‘Charlotte’s made food, Alan. Both of you come and eat at ours,’ Liam said to Dad, avoiding looking at me, knowing there was no way I’d want my mother anywhere near me. He was functioning on automatic, something he’d seemed to be doing since Joe had gone. He felt as guilty as me, sometimes I thought more so. We still hadn’t talked about the affair, not properly, not directly. Although Liam was aware I knew something.
I watched my father. A patient man, a kind man. How could he love my mother? How could anyone love my mother? Joe hadn’t loved her. But he had tried.
‘We’ll drive over now,’ my dad said. He turned to return to his wife.
Liam pushed me gently into our waiting car. A PC whom I recognised sat ready in the driving seat. From the backseat, I saw his forced and sad smile in his rear-view mirror. The pity again.
We drove southwards towards home, passing the local park on the way. It had been built around the time Joe had been born, overlooking the main road, on elevated ground. The council’s thinking: where the kids could be seen.
Liam broke the short silence. ‘I’d rather Jonathan Waters didn’t turn up today.’
‘He’s my friend.’ I stared through the window. ‘You can’t have an opinion on this. He’s been good to me.’
Liam didn’t answer.
Twitter: @julieannwriter https://twitter.com/julieannwriter
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JA Corrigan lives in Berkshire and shares her life with a husband, one teenage daughter and a very cute cockapoo. When not writing she is to be found mooching in the garden during the summer and often in the mini gym at the bottom of that garden in winter-time.
Many thanks Julie- great interview,