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Tag: debut novel

Opening Lines from Morwenna Blackwood: The (D)evolution of Us

It is with the greatest of pleasure that I bring you this week’s Opening Lines from Morwenna Blackwood.

Not only is this Morwenna’s debut novel – but it is also a novel written during my very first set of #novelinayear workshops. To say I’m proud of the work Morwenna has produced is an understatement.

So, put your feet up with a cuppa, and take a look at The (D)evolution of Us.

Over to you Morwenna…

Once upon a time, I heard about a writing workshop run by best-selling author, Jenny Kane.  It was held in my local café, and as ’twas a dark and stormy day and I’d just been given a pen in the shape of a cactus, I thought I’d go.  I loved it, and at the end, Jenny mentioned that she was thinking of running a Novel in a Year course as part of Imagine Creative Writing.  I signed up there and then (with my new pen).  Over the year, I wrote The (D)Evolution of Us, and with the support of Jenny, my local writers’ group and my brilliant husband, I submitted my manuscript to darkstroke, it was released on Star Wars Day, and we all lived happily ever after…?

***

I spent most of my childhood and teenage years hiding in libraries; now, I carry my own personal one around in my pocket wherever I go.  This doesn’t mean I don’t still stop and lose track of time in bookshops and bookstalls, though.  In fact, this morning, on my lockdown-permitted-exercise walk, some lovely person had left a storage container full of books at the end of their front garden, with a note on it inviting passers-by to pick one, or leave one for others who might be in need of a random lockdown read.  I couldn’t help myself – I paused for a look.

The thing I love most about reading second-hand books is finding bits of other stories inside them: forgotten bookmarks; ticket stubs; Biro-ed dedications; and best of all, notes scrawled in the margins.  In the books I own, I am a margin-scrawler.  My husband says this is defacing someone else’s work, but to me, it’s adding to it.  Stories are inextricably linked, and in any case, what one reader gets from a book will be different to the next, and that’s the beauty of it.  Perception is everything.

The (D)Evolution of Us is an exploration – or explanation – of those ideas.  The novel is a noir existential thriller, set in a small Devon town at the turn of the 21st century, and is told from the view points of the three protagonists, Richard, Kayleigh and Catherine.  The girls are best friends.  Catherine is dead.

Mental illness, personal history, personality and perception drive the actions of all three as they struggle to make sense of their lives and their agency; whilst living in a town where everyone appears to know everything about everyone else, and the days roll away in a work-pub-work-pub cycle.

This is my debut novel, and its origins lie in my own existential dread.  In the end, I decided to wholeheartedly pursue the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do – write – and if there’s ever a starting point to anything, the story of Richard, Kayleigh and Catherine is it for me.

If you come into possession of the paperback, feel free to write in the margins.

***

Blurb

… the water was red and translucent, like when you rinse a paint brush in a jam jar.  The deeper into the water, the darker the red got.  No, the thicker it got.  It wasn’t water, it was human.  It was Cath.

Cath is dead, but why and how isn’t clear cut to her best friend, Kayleigh.  As Kayleigh searches for answers, she is drawn deeper into Cath’s hidden world.  The (D)Evolution of Us questions where a story really begins, and whether the world in our heads is more real than reality.

First 500 words

Prologue

PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL

Dear Dr Farefield,

I reviewed Catherine at The Meadows today. She reported that her OCD was less ‘loud’ than when we last met in November, after the Crisis Team was called. This improvement has coincided with the resuming of clomipramine, which seems likely to have been helpful, as it has been in the past. Catherine agreed to the suggestion that this dose be increased to 200mg: 100mg morning and evening.

Catherine is coping well with life and states that her relationship with Richard is good. However she refuses to tell him about restarting the clomipramine, which is of concern to me. She has also resumed her writing.  I again offered Catherine a course of CBT, but she was resolute that she found it ‘useless’.

Catherine has now found employment in a health food shop but struggles with her OCD when closing down the tills and locking up at the end of the day, though she admits that she recognises that her rituals are entirely irrational.

Overall, in spite of her very significant persisting difficulties, I think that Catherine’s life has improved with the reintroduction of clomipramine.

Yours sinc,

Dr E Whittle

Consultant Psychiatrist

PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL

Dear Dr Farefield,

I met with Kayleigh at The Meadows this morning, where she revealed to me that she is in the first trimester of pregnancy. She had requested the appointment (we were not due to meet again for another six weeks), in order, primarily, to discuss her medication, with regards to her new condition.

I found the fact that she did this encouraging, as I did her general demeanour. She was casually, but neatly, dressed, maintained good eye-contact throughout our interview, and appeared to have a good understanding of her mental health, and how it could impact on her (unborn) child.

We decided together that it would be prudent for Kayleigh to remain taking her lithium for the duration of her pregnancy, with close monitoring from her midwife and the Perinatal Team.

In spite of Kayleigh’s reports of having been ‘stable’ for the last few months, I have suggested that we meet at The Meadows every six weeks for the foreseeable future. I have also asked her to make an appointment for bloods to check her lithium levels as soon as possible – it is critical that she maintains a therapeutic dose.

Yours sinc,

Dr E Whittle

Consultant Psychiatrist

Richard

I’m half-listening to the radio, running a bath for my girlfriend, Cath. She’s sitting on the toilet seat, staring at me. I’m standing in the doorway, staring at her. Then I start to laugh. They’re playing that song by Marillion – Kayleigh – the one her hippy twat of a best mate likes to say she was named for, even though she’s too bloody old. I say she’s a hippy twat – I’d still shag her. She needs a good seeing to – and a good slap. She dots her ‘i’s with hearts, for fuck’s sake! And then the phone rings. Bloody witches. I…

You can buy The (D)evolution of Us from all good retailers, including…

mybook.to/devolution

Bio – When Morwenna Blackwood was six years old, she got told off for filling a school exercise book with an endless story when she should have been listening to the teacher/eating her tea/colouring with her friends.  The story was about a frog.  It never did end; and Morwenna never looked back.

Born and raised in Devon, Morwenna suffered from severe OCD and depression, and spent her childhood and teens in libraries.  She travelled about for a decade before returning to Devon.  She now has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Exeter, and lives with her husband, son and three cats in a cottage that Bilbo Baggins would be proud of.  When she is not writing, she works for an animal rescue charity, or can be found down by the sea.

She often thinks about that frog.

Amazon Author Central: amazon.com/author/morwennablackwood

FB Page: https://www.facebook.com/morwennablackwood

Twitter: @MorwennaBlackw1

Instagram: morwennablackwood_

***

Many thanks Morwenna- wishing you huge success.

Happy reading Jenny

PS- She really did turn up with a cactus pen xx

Opening Lines with Jan Baynham: Her Mother’s Secret

This week, I’m delighted to welcome Jan Baynham to Opening Lines, to talk about her debut novel, Her Mother’s Secret.

Over to you, Jan…

‘Her Mother’s Secret’, with its sub-heading of ‘the Summer of ‘69’, is my debut novel. It is the first of three I’ve been contracted to write for Ruby Fiction. All three novels involve secrets and forbidden love, explore mother and daughter relationships and are mainly or partly set in countries other than Britain. ‘Her Mother’s Secret’ was published on April 21st as an ebook and most of it is set on Péfka, a fictional island off the coast of southern Greece. The story opens in 1991when a young Welsh woman, Alexandra Davies, is grieving after the untimely death of her mother. Elin has left her diary to her daughter and on reading it, Alexandra discovers a part of Elin’s life she knew nothing about. She is shocked as the secrets from Elin’s past are revealed and realises she didn’t know her mother as well as she thought. I tried to put myself in Alexandra’s shoes. Having had a very close relationship with her mother, how must she have felt finding out that her mother had kept such secrets from her?

The diary takes us back to 1969. Elin Morgan leaves Wales after finishing art college to spend the summer months studying at a painting school in Greece.  She records everything about her summer on the island but, while there, something happens that causes her to never paint again.  The secrets of that summer remain with her until she dies twenty-two years later.

Alexandra makes her own journey to Greece, following in her mother’s footsteps. She arrives on the same beautiful island that made such an impression on her mother. Once there, she sets about uncovering what really happened to Elin in that summer of ’69 and why it was never mentioned again. Will she understand why her mother closed down that part of her life?

Why Greece? Having had several holidays there now, I first visited the country in the seventies when we stayed with my aunt and Greek uncle. I fell in love with the climate, the vibrancy of the colours of the sea and flowers and the warmth of its people. It seemed to be an ideal place for a young artist to spend her summer. I enjoyed getting to know my Greek characters, some named after or based on people I’ve met and observed on visits over the years. Dimitra, the host at the taverna where Elin stays, is named after a lovely waitress from the hotel we go to in Crete. On a trip to a Cretan village, I watched a woodturner working at his lathe on pieces of olive wood and he became the inspiration for Yiannis who figures largely in Alexandra’s story. Vassilis is named after an elderly Greek who led me onto a taverna dance floor. He tried to teach me traditional dancing and had the bruised toes to prove it! He appears in both Elin’s and Alexandra’s story. I hope I’ve done justice to the country and its people by giving the reader a glimpse of life on my fictional island.

***

BLURB:

A secret left behind in the summer of ’69 …

It’s 1969 and free-spirited artist Elin Morgan has left Wales for a sun-drenched Greek island. As she makes new friends and enjoys the laidback lifestyle, she writes all about it in her diary. But Elin’s carefree summer of love doesn’t last long, and her island experience ultimately leaves her with a shocking secret …

Twenty-two years later, Elin’s daughter Alexandra has inherited the diary and is reeling from its revelations. The discovery compels Alexandra to make her own journey to the same island, following in her mother’s footsteps. Once there, she sets about uncovering what really happened to Elin in that summer of ’69.

FIRST 500 WORDS

Prologue

1969, The Peloponnese, Southern Greece

Sofia Simonides let out a scream and tottered backwards. Her pulse struggled to force blood around her veins. The body was slumped against the gnarled trunk of an ancient olive tree, head hanging to one side and resting on the left shoulder.

The man had a blue-grey pallor, his skin a candle-wax translucency. Sofia bent over and touched his cheek. It was icy cold; she gasped, drawing back her hand. Blood from a gash on one wrist had seeped over his thigh and there was a deep red stain in the sand. A long-bladed knife caked in dried blood lay by his side. Sofia eased out the piece of paper he clutched in one fist, unfolded it and read the message.

Falling to her knees, she sobbed.

‘Andreas, no-o-o! No! What have you done?’

A piercing howl from deep inside her shattered the cool, still air of the dawn.

Chapter One

Alexandra

1991, A market town in the heart of rural mid-Wales
The sky was lead-grey, heavy with blue-black rain clouds threatening a downpour. The dreariness of the day reflected my mood as I turned the Mini into the cul-de-sac. A shiny red two-seater was parked in the drive behind my father’s Audi. I pulled up alongside the kerb, took a deep breath, trying to avoid a downpour of my own, and entered the house. There was laughter coming from the kitchen.

‘What’s she doing here?’

My father and his friend turned to face me. His mouth gaped open.

‘Alexandra. Apologise, straight away. Sally, I’m very sorry. She has no right to speak to you like that.’

‘It’s all right, Richard. Alexandra’s upset. I’ll go now. The food’s almost done, anyway. You just need to serve it straight from the oven once the timer rings. Shall I call Claire down on my way out?’

I glared at the woman who stood there taking off Mam’s apron. My heart quickened. Mam? My mind was playing tricks on me. It wasn’t Mam, was it? She should be the one standing there, greeting me, cooking dinner. Not her. I struggled to breathe. How dare she? How dare he?

My father accompanied Sally outside, and I heard the throaty roar of the sports car signal that she’d gone. I braced myself for the row that would ensue, but I wasn’t being unreasonable, was I?

Claire entered the kitchen first. She was four years younger than me, tall and slim with long auburn hair and sage-green eyes. She took after my father’s side of the family. He idolised her.

‘What was all that about and where’s Sally?’ she said.

By then, my father had joined us and they both stared at me. ‘Well?’

‘That woman’s here all the time, wheedling her way in. She’s even taken to wearing Mam’s things.’ I twisted the cotton apron into a ball in my hands and heard my voice rise.

Claire moved to switch off the timer and reached for the oven gloves…

***

 ‘Her Mother’s Secret’ is available on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=her+mother+s+secret+jan+baynham&ref=nb_sb_noss

Bio

After retiring from a career in teaching and advisory education, Jan joined a small writing group in a local library where she wrote her first piece of fiction.  From then on, she was hooked! She soon went on to take a writing class at the local university and began to submit short stories for publication to a wider audience. Her stories and flash fiction pieces have been longlisted and shortlisted in competitions and several appear in anthologies both online and in print. In October 2019, her first collection of stories was published.  Her stories started getting longer and longer so that, following a novel writing course, she began to write her first full-length novel. She loves being able to explore her characters in further depth and delve into their stories.

Originally from mid-Wales, Jan lives in Cardiff with her husband. Having joined the Romantic Novelists Association in 2016, she values the friendship and support from other members and regularly attends conferences, workshops, talks and get togethers. She is co-organiser of her local RNA Chapter and a member of the Society of Authors.

You may find out more about Jan here:

Twitter: @JanBaynham  https://twitter.com/JanBaynham

Facebook: Jan Baynham Writer  https://www.facebook.com/JanBayLit/

Blog: www.janbaynham.blogspot.co.uk

***

Many thanks Jan,

Happy reading everyone.

Jenny x

 

Guest Post by Sharon Black: Going Against Type

Today, I’d like to welcome debut novelist, Sharon Black, to my site, to tell us all about writing her first work of fiction, and what inspired its creation.

Over to you Sharon…

HI JENNY, thank you so much for having me here on your blog today. I’d like to tell you and your readers a little about myself and my inspiration for my debut novel.

My background is in journalism. After I left college, I worked as a features writer for a national newspaper here in Dublin. I married and took a substantial break from paid work, when my children were small, before returning to write for another national paper for a while.

By the time I was ready to write a novel, it seemed natural for me to write about what I knew.

Going Against Type by Sharon Black - 200

Going Against Type is a romantic comedy, it’s set in the world of Dublin-based national newspapers. Because the setting was familiar, I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone in other ways.

Going Against Type tells the story of rival newspaper columnists, who write under pen names, and unknowingly fall in love with their arch enemy: each other! They each have good reason to protect their alter egos. So their relationship develops, each blissfully unaware of whom the other is. Until they are forced to reveal themselves….

My inspiration for the book was the 1940s Hollywood film, Woman of the Year, starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey. I loved all their films! Hepburn plays a high brow pundit, who rubbishes sport in one of her columns. Tracey is a sports columnist who leaps to defend his beloved sport and in turn, attacks Hepburn’s views, and the fun begins. In the film, however, they meet quite quickly and despite knowing who the other person is, they fall in love.

In Going Against Type, I turned the stereotypes around. So Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Regan is the sports buff. At the beginning of the story, she is given a chance to write the new, anonymous sports column, Side Swipe.

My hero, Derry Cullinane is a fashion writer and gossip columnist, The Squire for the rival paper. He’s sophisticated, man-about-town and a bit of a playboy. They fall in love, and that’s where the fun begins.

While that whole build up was really fun to do, it was also extremely challenging. The main reason was that I to ensure that Charlotte and Derry’s columns were quite acerbic. That way, you could see a huge contrast between their views in the papers – their weekly banter – and how they were with each other. It also meant there was more at stake.

The hardest columns to get right were Charlotte’s. Paradoxically, she turned out to be a wonderful character to write. I know very little about sport, having never been sporty myself. But I admire people who are, and I wanted Charlotte to be very different from me. Because Charlotte’s a journalist, I didn’t want anyone to think I was writing bits of me into my heroine.

So I did a lot of research. I read a lot of sports columnists, I checked all my facts, and then I tried to put myself into the head of a feisty, twenty-something woman, working in an area that’s largely dominated by men.

Her columns took a lot of writing and re-writing. I wanted them to be sharp, funny and very controversial. And as her columns got better, the character of Charlotte became more defined and easier to write. In the end, she felt like a real person; somebody I had known a long time.

A lot of people are surprised when they see that my hero is a gossip columnist and fashion writer. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule, but mainly these are areas in journalism that tend to be dominated by women.

Quite apart from wanting to just shake things up, I wanted to write a strong male character, who is completely comfortable in his own skin, and his fabulous tailor made suits! He is manly, yet completely relaxed with having a female boss and working in a features department, surrounded by women. Actually, he likes that a lot!

It sounds like a terrible cliché, but writing this book was a huge learning experience. I had written short stories down the years, and had some of them published. And I’d started so many books – but had never finished them.

This time, I armed myself with the tools: the nuts and bolts of novel structuring. And I knew I had a good story. I was determined to see it through. I’m so glad I did. I became an author and I’m so grateful for that. And I’m very proud of my debut.

***

EXCERPT

Note: Charlotte is sent to cover Ladies’ Day at The Galway Races. It’s here that she meets Derry for the first time.

‘So, did you get lucky?’ a deep voice drawled.

Charlotte spun to find Mr Panama Hat grinning down at her. Bloody hell, she thought, smiling back despite herself. Any other man she knew would look utterly ridiculous in what seemed to be a tailor made, striped linen jacket and trousers, combined with that damned hat. But he carried it off with a self-confidence that bordered on swagger.

‘Yes actually, I did,’ she admitted, still smiling. ‘What about you?’

He grimaced.

‘I lost. My own fault. I took a flier on somebody else’s tip.’

Charlotte grinned sympathetically.

‘Oh?’

Mr Panama Hat shook his head, scowling briefly.

‘I read some bloody sports columnist from Ireland Today. Had a few winners earlier this week. As I said, it’s my own fault. I never normally bother with racing tips. Whoever it is, he obviously doesn’t know a horse from a three-legged stool.’

Charlotte swallowed hard.

‘So how much did you lose?’ she managed, trying to sound casual.

‘A thousand.’ He caught Charlotte’s horrified expression and laughed. ‘Hey, don’t look so worried! I’m a big boy.’

Charlotte stared at him in amazement. Who did that? Maybe he was a rich eccentric, the kind of guy who hung around the race courses, betting big. Not caring whether or not he won – or lost everything on the day. That said, she was damned if she’d come clean!

‘So do you normally gamble this recklessly Mr…?’ Charlotte trailed away meaningfully, biro poised over her notebook. He stuck out his hand, a warm smile forming.

‘Sorry I should have introduced myself. I’m…

‘Derry! Where have you been? They’re just about to start the judging. Come on darling, I have to go line up. I want you to be able to see!’

A tall blonde, wearing a rose pink knee-length dress with tiny matching jacket, pink stiletto sling-back shoes and a dizzy spiral of cream and pink headwear, teetered over and clung to Derry’s arm. She looked, Charlotte thought, vaguely familiar. The blonde smiled tightly at Charlotte and then noticed her press badge.

‘Oooh, you’re from the papers! Maybe I could talk to you when the judging’s over. Do you have a photographer with you?’ She didn’t wait for Charlotte to answer, but rushed on. ‘You’ll have to excuse us right now, okay?’

‘Of course, don’t let me delay you,’ Charlotte said, stepping back.

‘Wait,’ Derry began, shooting her a sudden intrigued look. ‘You’re not with Ireland Today, are you?’

‘Shit. Charlotte managed a surprised laugh.

‘Um, yes,’ she squeaked. ‘I’m er, writing a piece on Ladies Day.’

‘Oh right.’ He frowned. ‘What about their Side Swipe columnist? Do you know him?’

Lie Charlotte. And do it well.

‘No. It’s being written anonymously. I think the writer works from home…’ She smiled brightly at him. Behind Derry, the blonde shot Charlotte a steely glare. Charlotte glanced one last time at Derry.

‘You should go. And I have to work. Nice to meet you.’ She turned and walked away…

***

Sharon 254 ac smaller file

BIOGRAPHY

SHARON Black grew up in Dublin. She studied history and politics at University College Dublin and then did post-graduate in journalism at Dublin City University.

She has worked for national newspapers, including The Evening Herald and The Irish Examiner.

She had short stories published in U Magazine and won the 2010 Dromineer Literary Festival short story competition.

When she is not writing, she reads, walks and sees friends. She co-founded a local book club 14 years ago. She loves theatre, old Hollywood films, science fiction and good stand-up comedy.

She lives in a Dublin coastal village, with her husband and their three children.

BLOG: http://sharonblackauthor.blogspot.ie/

WEBSITE: http://coldcoffeecafe.com/profile/SharonBlackhttp://coldcoffeecafe.com/profile/SharonBlack http://coldcoffeecafe.com/profile/SharonBlack

FACEBOOK AUTHOR PG: http://on.fb.me/1AG4C3J

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/Authorsharonb https://twitter.com/Authorsharonb

ALL BUY LINKS: tirpub.com/gatype tirpub.com/gatype

***

Many thanks for visiting today Sharon, I wish you much luck with your new book.

Happy Reading,

Jenny x

 

 

 

 

 

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