Gone, but never forgotten

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At Colchester Zoo with my dad in the mid-seventies

The first thing you need to know about my dad, Phil, is he liked to do things his way.  I wouldn’t call him headstrong; if he’d have been any more laid back he would have been horizontal, but he most definitely had a stubborn streak.  He was also like the bunny in the Cadbury’s Caramel adverts in that he liked to take things easy.  He wasn’t lazy (well, not bone idle lazy), but when Jack Nicholson said ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’, Dad was first in queue to take his advice.

Dad only ever wanted for a comfortable life and for him this consisted of cigarettes, alcohol and rich greasy food, a newspaper to read while he sat on his ‘throne’ for half an hour each morning (a routine that would eventually result in piles) and a daily walk through the aisles of our local Sainsbury’s, where he knew most of the staff by name, and would leisurely peruse the wine section, helpfully recommending bottles to complete strangers.

He grew up in a sleepy village on the Suffolk/Essex border in a working class family, and was the eldest of two sons, doted upon by our nan.  Dad and Uncle liked to consider themselves the wide boys about town and dressed in Cuban heels and Godfather style long leather coats.  Although in old photos their poses were reminiscent of the Kray brothers, they were more like The Walton’s and, as children, we were told tales about how they saved the local factory from burning down, were head hunted by Colchester United Football Club and performed kung fu style heroics on local thugs intent on taking over the village pub.

At thirty Dad decided that he had outgrown village life and it was time to leave home.  He had travelled to London a handful of times as roadie with various bands and had contacts in the industry.  Packing his bags he headed all the way north to the heady lights of Norwich.

Not renowned as a buzzing hive for up-and-coming musicians, Dad’s philosophy on the move, and answer to his critics, was ‘why be a small fish in a big pond, when you can be a big fish in a small pond?’

To be fair to him, he made waves in the music business as a promoter in the late sixties and early seventies, bringing several known artistes to East Anglia and he is still remembered fondly by many in the industry. I can also thank him for ensuring I listened to an eclectic range of music growing up.

The rock n roll lifestyle did mean that on the night I was born he was out partying with Rod Stewart, having helped promote him at the Wheeley Festival. Weeks later, Rod went on to have a number one single with Maggie May and the rest is history.

As he settled into family life, priorities changed and although he kept the ‘Liam Gallagher of the seventies’ look, he set up his own agency, mostly dealing with the military and supplying all manner of entertainment – from bands to dodgems – for their summer and Christmas balls. He also owned a couple of video rental stores, which is probably why I have always had a huge love for film.

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Mum and Dad on their wedding day – December 1970

The agency was run from home, which meant plenty of free time for golf. Dad was a player was what was best described as a ‘unique’ swing. He also introduced Mum to the sport and got the hump when she proved to be much better than him. As Mum continued to excel at the sport and the lounge cabinet became home to all her trophies, Dad eventually resigned himself to becoming a golf widower, occasional trolley puller and secretary of Mum’s fan club.

Lack of golf meant lack of exercise, so we got a dog.

Dad had always been anti pets and as young children we had been resigned to goldfish.  Gradually we managed to climb our way up the animal chain by sweet-talking Mum, working our way through hamsters, budgies, rabbits and kittens. Then we tried our luck with a dog.

As I recall, the conversation with Dad went, ‘if you bring it home, I’m leaving’.  Of course the trick was to show Mum the cute yowling little puppy and once she was seduced we brought him home regardless. We called the puppy Cody and although Dad sulked for a few days, he made no attempt to pack his bags.

Of course the novelty of walking a dog soon wore off and the leash was passed to Dad, who along with Cody became a familiar sight around the village.  Long gone were the Cuban heels (the Godfather coat hung in the cupboard for years, but we tried not to let him leave the house in it) in favour of a more middle of the road wardrobe of ill-fitting trousers, which often slipped down to reveal his bum crack and knitted pattern jumpers.

With his snowy white hair and smiling ruddy face, he cut a friendly figure and soon got to know all of the neighbours and fellow dog walkers on his route.  In the summer and autumn he and Cody would disappear for hours, returning with ice cream containers full of cherries, blackberries and wild mushrooms. He would attempt to use these in weird and wonderful recipes that we, of course, would all refuse to eat.

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Cody the wonder dog

Cody never travelled well in the car, hence why he was only ever taken on the occasional road trip.  This fact came to light when Dad, Mum, Brother and Sister went to the coast one day to take Cody for a run on the beach.

Family walks always followed the same routine. Dad would march half a mile ahead of everyone else; a man on a mission who seemed to work on the theory that the quicker he walked, the quicker it would be over. The rest of the flock would follow together. Sister usually whining to Mum that her legs were aching or she needed an ice cream or drink. My brother would keep close tabs on everything sister was asking for to ensure he didn’t miss out if she got it. Over the years little has changed. The complaining of aches mantle has been passed from sister to Mum and brother rarely accompanies us on any social gatherings that don’t involve alcohol.

On this particular occasion the family was walking along the high street in Wells. It was a warm day and busy. As Dad marched ahead, the rest of the clan noticed people giving him a wide berth and some were looking at him in complete disgust.

Dad was oblivious (he was his daughter’s father) both to the stares and to the fact that Cody’s upset stomach had turned into diarrhea and was dripping down his trouser leg.

Let’s just say it was a rather uncomfortable and smelly ride home.

There are many great stories I could tell you about my dad. He passed away thirteen years ago, just four months before 9/11, and never got to witness Mum become the Captain of her golf club, Sister join the police and make detective or know that I eventually became a published author. Most of all though, I think he would be devastated to learn that my brother now works for a whiskey magazine and that he would have never had to pay for a bottle again.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Gone, but never forgotten.

 

My Chocolate Bar Challenge

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Last weekend I was invited by my friend and fellow author, Tara Ford, to take part in the Chocolate Bar Challenge Blog Tour.

Ooh, chocolate, I thought. Ooh books, I thought. Ooh, chocolate plus books, I thought. What could be more fun? (Well… aside from wine of course). And so I have spent the past week sampling chocolate, because if you’re going to compare it to your favourite books, you need to do your research properly, right?

And now I feel fat and I have chocolate crumbs round my mouth, on my clothes, even in the duvet for chrissakes. So thanks a lot, Tara Ford.

For those who don’t already know, Tara is the author of the Calling All… series and her latest novel, Calling All Dentists was released earlier this year. Her genre is probably best described as chick lit and she is a very funny lady. If you like my humour then you will definitely like Tara’s.

To find out more about Tara and check out the result of her Chocolate Bar Challenge, visit her website http://taraford.weebly.com/blog/chocolate-book-tag-challenge

I have selected seven books for my challenge. Do check them out below and let me know what you think of my comparisons.

THE MAGIC FARAWAY TREE – ENID BLYTON

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This was by far my favourite book when I was a child. Enid Blyton had a fabulous imagination and with Faraway Tree novels (this was the second in the series, The Enchanted Wood being the first) created wonderful worlds for the reader to visit. The story follows four children – Joe, Bessie, Fanny and Dick (you couldn’t make this up) and their adventures at the top of the oak tree near where they live. There are many colourful characters living in the tree, Moonface, Silky the Fairy, Dame Washalot, who pours her dirty laundry water down the tree, and Saucepan Man, who is covered in pans and kettles. Together with the children they visit magical lands by climbing a ladder at the top of the tree, experiencing numerous adventures.

My chosen chocolate bar is the Kinder Surprise, as the lands at the top of the tree change every couple of days and the children never know what they are going to find.

THE SHINING – STEPHEN KING

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‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ types Jack Torrance, lead character in The Shining. Well, I have chosen a Mars Bar for this story, as it will help Jack work, rest and play. Hopefully then he won’t take his axe and try to butcher his wife and little boy, Danny.

Jack is an author struggling with writers block and takes a job as winter caretaker for the Overlook Hotel. The hotel is vast and empty, albeit for Jack, wife, Wendy, and little Danny, and they are snowed in for the duration. As Jack starts to go slightly crazy, is it caused by cabin fever, or is there something sinister within the walls of the hotel? Danny knows something is wrong. He has the shining, a gift of seeing into the future. Can he use this to alert help before it is too late?

TALES OF THE CITY – ARMISTEAD MAUPIN

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After reading this book, I wanted to find a time machine to transport me to 1970s San Francisco.  Young, wide-eyed Mary Ann Singleton moves to the city and becomes the latest tenant at 28 Barbary Lane. TOTC follows the colourful characters who live there, including eccentric, pot growing landlady, Mrs Madrigal, hippy, Mona, womanizer, Brian, cagey man on the roof, Norman, and the recently ‘out of the closet’, Mouse.

Maupin really captures the colour and vibrancy of the city. The characters are all so different, but their personalities shine through and for this reason I have chosen Quality Street.  Mary Ann would be the vanilla fudge, Mouse the strawberry delight, etc, etc.

REBECCA – DAPHNE DU MAURIER

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I adore both Du Maurier’s book and the Hitchcock movie adaptation of Rebecca, a story for me that has a little bit of everything. Our protagonist is the second Mrs de Winter, a shy and innocent young woman in her early twenties, who has been working as a companion to a rich American woman. She marries Maxim de Winter, after a whirlwind romance and suddenly finds herself lady of the house at Mandalay, the home Maxim shared with his first wife, Rebecca. The new Mrs de Winter soon finds herself out of her depth, particularly when she comes up again the housekeeper, a bitter woman called Mrs Danvers, who was fiercely loyal to Rebecca.

There are many twists and turns throughout the book, which is in part a love story, but also has a much darker core. The foreboding Mrs Danvers is the domineering presence and for this reason I choose the smooth, fine and intense, but very dark, Bournville.

VALENTINE – TOM SAVAGE

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This book is a hidden gem and although it has sold moderately well (and spawned a movie – which I recommend you avoid at all costs, as it takes everything that is clever about this book and throws it out of the window) it is a real shame more people do not know about it.

Jillian Talbot is a successful novelist who attracts the attentions of a Valentine stalker. It starts innocently enough, but things soon get sinister, and she begins to suspect there could be a connection to her past. In high school, Jillian was part of a clique, and a prank played on a fellow student ended with devastating consequences. If you like my novels, you will love Valentine. Tom Savage is a master of twists and red herrings and the plot moves at breakneck speed, leaving you going ‘Oh my God!’ at the final revelation.

I can’t give you my heart, but I will certainly give you my last Rolo if you try this book.

SUPERSTITION – DAVID AMBROSE

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You know those times when you are alone and think you hear the presence of someone else in the room? Well for that reason, Wispa seems the most appropriate chocolate bar for this supernatural tale.

I say supernatural, but the twist here is Superstition follows parapsychologist, Sam Towne, who sets out to prove that ghosts come from the human mind and not beyond the grave.  He invites a number of volunteers, including skeptical reporter, Joanna Cross, to take part in an experiment to ‘create’ a ghost. The experiment appears to be a success, but then things get out of control and when the volunteers start dying, it seems their ghost has taken on a mind of its own.

A THIN DARK LINE – TAMI HOAG

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I have saved my favourite book for last and as it is set in Cajun country in the deep swampy south of Louisiana, close to New Orleans, my final chocolate choice is Black Magic.

Pamela Bichon was horrifically murdered and the prime suspect, Marcus Renard, who relentlessly stalked her prior to death, has just been freed on a technicality. Detective Nick Fourcade blames himself for Renard walking free and goes after him in a drunken rage. Enter rookie cop, Annie Broussard, who comes across the scene and arrests Fourcade. This action sets the scene for the rest of the book, as Annie finds her alienated by her male dominated colleagues for turning on one of their own. Worse still, Renard is very grateful and Annie has just become the object of his latest affection.

Tami Hoag is a brilliant storyteller and the characters and the setting come alive off the page, making you feel the sticky swampy heat and Cajun flavour and as a reader you are really drawn in to Annie’s battle to do the right thing in a mostly corrupt police department.

If you have never read this book then I strongly recommend it.

 

So those are my choices for the Chocolate Bar Challenge and now it is time for me to hand over to three new authors, whose blogs will appear next week. They are all from across the pond, so I guess it now becomes the Candy Bar Challenge.

Say hello to Robin Hardy, Bryan Koepke and Megan Denby.

Robin Hardy is an award winning author, who has been writing Christian fiction for 29 years. She has dozens of novels to her name, including Chataine’s Guardian (runner-up for the Gold Medallion book award) and Streiker’s Bride. Robin says about her writing ‘What I have learned (and keep learning) is that the most powerful story in the world is that of redemptive love. So I keep working at it, trying to get the story right, and to adequately express something that is really beyond me’.

Robin is most prolific on her Facebook author page and this is where she will be posting her Chocolate Bar Challenge Blog. You can find her page here https://www.facebook.com/pages/Robin-Hardy/55052677826

Denver based, Bryan Koepke, published his first novel, Vengeance, earlier this year. The thriller follows Reece Culver, a former aerospace engineer turned PI, who is tortured by unanswered questions revolving around the mystery of his father’s cold-case murder. His latest case puts him on a collision course with the man who can provide those answers.

Bryan’s blog can be found at http://thewriterscabin.blogspot.co.uk/

Finally, onto Megan Denby, award winning Canadian author of A Thistle in the Mist, an atmospheric and epic tale of love, tragedy and murder set on the shores of Scotland and Nova Scotia. The story was inspired by her Scottish Grandmother. Megan is currently working on the darker and disturbing sequel, Lost to the Mist, which should be released later this year.

Find out how Megan gets on in the Chocolate bar challenge at http://www.megandenby.com/

 

So you want to be a writer?

The number one thing I get when people find out I’m a published author is ‘I’m thinking about writing a book’.

I am always polite as I smile and wish them luck, but deep down I know that for most of them it is all talk and they have no idea what is involved in writing a novel.

That may sound harsh, but it is honest and anyone contemplating writing a book, read on because here are three truths that you need to take on board.

TO BE A WRITER YOU MUST WRITE

This is where most people fail. Penning a novel is an arduous task. To begin with you need a decent plot structure, one that will be interesting enough to appeal to your audience. You need to identify your genre and meticulously plot where your story is going, and you must create likeable characters who will undertake the journey with the reader, people who are fleshed out and easy to identify with.

Pad of Paper & Pen

Okay, so you have gotten this far, now you need the commitment to write. You need to be able to sit down at your computer and stare at a blank page and be able to put words on it – regularly.

This is where many start to make excuses. Fear of the blank page, writer’s block, not enough time to write regularly. If this is you and you’ve maybe penned the first couple of chapters over a few year period, chances are you may never finish it.

We are all busy and struggle to find free time due to family commitments or holding down a fulltime job to pay the bills and there may be times in our lives where it is truly impossible to find the time to write, but if you are really serious about penning a book you will need to stop saying ‘one day’ at some point. I work fulltime and have very demanding bosses. Most evenings I arrive home exhausted and with my brain only half functioning. I wrote Dead Write during my evenings and over weekends, setting myself a schedule and sticking to it. Yes it meant sacrificing 90% of my social life, but it was worth it to see the book finally completed and in print.

As for writer’s block, the only way to beat it is to write. Chances are the first few pages you churn out will be drivel, but so what? You’re writing. And the more you write the better and the easier it will become.

A PROFESSIONAL EDITOR IS A NECESSITY

It is scary how many people are arrogant enough to think they can write a book and edit it themselves. Once you have completed your manuscript you need to go through and do a rewrite, taking out irrelevant clutter and sharpening your work, but remember, you wrote this, so you will likely miss several errors in your story. That is why you need to hand it over to fresh eyes. And professional fresh eyes too.

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I have six beta readers (I call them my ’alphas’ because there is nothing beta about them) who are great for judging the story for readability, character likeability and picking up plot holes, but they are not professional editors, trained to pick up grammatical errors.

When I send my manuscripts off to my editor I always think they are perfect. ‘Ha, she’s not going to find any errors this time,’ I told myself after completing Dead Write. And then it came back with a lot of highlighted areas and notes in the side column and I huffed in frustration at all the silly mistakes I had made and reminded myself I’m not as great at grammar as I would like to be.

Ignore this advice at your peril. Yes you can publish a book that hasn’t been professionally edited, but it will show and it will never be taken as seriously as its counterparts.

PROMOTION IS KEY

Too many authors are of the opinion that once their book is written and published the hard work is done and they can sit back and watch the sales rack up.

No book is going to sell itself and if you want people to be aware of your novel’s existence then you need to spend time promoting it.

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By promoting, I don’t mean blatantly shoving it in people’s face, but you need to build a fan base and ideally you should do this well in advance of your book’s release.

Make sure you have a website and blog on this regularly. You should also set up a Facebook author page and get yourself on Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Google + and as many other sites as you can manage. Chances are you will only have time to dedicate regularly to a couple of these, so figure out what is working best for you and concentrate on it.

For me it’s my Facebook author page and I try to post to this on a daily basis. A few of my posts are suggesting people check out my books, but mostly they are humorous anecdotes, pictures or quotes, things I think will engage people and hopefully bring them back to my page.

Promotion really is vital and the harsh truth is, unless you are prepared to put in the effort you will sell very few books.

Inside a writer’s mind at her first book launch

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Thursday night saw the launch party for my second novel, Dead Write.

I never had a launch event for my first book, Dead Letter Day, so I was a little unsure of how I should set the format of the evening, as well as nervous as to whether anyone would actually show up.

Being a girl who likes her wine, I chose a city pub as my venue. I wanted the evening to be relaxed and fun, a chance for everyone to mingle, have a few drinks, maybe buy one of my books and eat cake.

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Yes, I went all Marie Antoinette and let my guests eat cake.

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These were courtesy of my great friend, Vanessa Hagg, of My Sweet Williams, who produced a fabulous giant chocolate fudge cake in the shape of my book, plus dozens of cupcakes.

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The day of the launch party arrived. I was excited and a little nervous. My publisher and Iceni Magazine were both going to be there to support me, as well as a few of my fellow authors. I had family travelling up from Suffolk who I hadn’t seen in years and lovely readers coming who had been engaging in my Facebook author page, but who I had not yet met.

And then there were the niggling doubts still there. What if none of them came? What if it was just me sat in the pub with a stack of books and enough cake to fill a bakery?

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And throughout the day as I sat in the hair salon having all those pesky grey bits covered up ahead of my big evening, the texts and email came, people sorry that they were unable to make my event due to illness or unforeseen circumstances. I had expected a few such messages, as I know there is a lot of sickness around at the moment. These things can’t be helped and I know many of those affected were genuinely disappointed they couldn’t come, but I hadn’t expected so many last day drop outs.

As my phone continued to bleep with apologies, I began to wonder if my niggling doubts would prove to be true and it would be a book launch flop.

Gulp!

So I arrived at the venue with my mother and my aunt. It was still packed out with after work drinkers as we carted in boxes of books, then Vanessa arrived and brought in the cakes. One drinker glanced across at our eateries before informing his pals ‘reckon they must be having a funeral party or something.’

Well, people do die in my books, so I guess he could have been right by a very big stretch of the imagination.

Eventually the pub cleared out and we were able to set up.

My mother glanced around at the small number of us and helpfully said in that wonderfully pessimistic way of hers, ‘Maybe this is it and no one else is coming. Oh well, your brother and sister should turn up later.’

Yup, thanks for that, Mum.

And then I spotted a couple of familiar faces and the shadow of doubt lifted slightly.

By the time the books were laid out and the cupcakes set up, the room was packed out.

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‘Yes.’ I thought silently. ‘Take that pessimistic mother.’

And from that moment on the evening passed in a bit of a blur.

I said a few words, thanked everyone for coming and for their support. I sold and signed books, people ate cake and a good time seemed to be had by all.

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For one evening I had glam hair, delectable cupcakes and a fantastic crowd of people celebrating the release of my second novel. I felt like the belle of the ball.

If only those same people could have seen me the next day, dressed in sweats with tousled hair and no make-up, washing dirty dishes, scooping up cat poop and taking out the trash.

Oh the heady life of the writer.

 

Interview with Megan Denby, author of A Thistle in the Mist

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I am delighted to announce this week’s interview is with Canadian author, Megan Denby, who you may remember wrote a fascinating guest blog on my site last year about the great-grandmother who inspired her debut novel, A Thistle in the Mist, and her road to getting it published. Her new novel, Lost to the Mist is due to be published later this year.

Take it away, Megan.

Tell us about yourself in 100 words? No more and no less.

Megan Denby is a novelist who grew up on a farm, where she spent much of her time riding the dirt roads on her bike and sprawled on the porch swing reading books. Writing for over thirty years, her debut novel, ‘A Thistle in the Mist’ was inspired by the turbulent life of her Scottish great-grandmother. Megan is an avid dragon boater, and, a true Canadian, she is a rookie goalie in the local women’s hockey league. Residing in the lakeside community of Port Perry with her family, Megan is currently working on the disturbing sequel, ‘Lost to the Mist’.

Tell us about your book.

‘A Thistle in the Mist’ is a fictional drama revolving around the life of a young highland lass named Meara MacDonald.

When Meara finds her mother dead, she cannot imagine how terrible her life will become. Up until the death of her mother, Meara has enjoyed an idyllic life on Isle of Skye, dreaming of the day she will wed the gallant Duncan MacLeod. Fate, however, has other plans and when Aunt Deirdre and Uncle Sloan arrive, Meara’s family is taken, one-by-one, for reasons she discovers are both personal and nefarious. Unable to reign in her spirit or her tongue, Meara falls prey to an intricate web of lies and deception and finds herself catapulted from Scotland to a household steeped in mystery in Nova Scotia. Guided by her strength of will, she fights her way back to the remains of her family; her heart and soul.

Bits and pieces of my Grandma Ross’s life are woven into the tale. Burdened with lies and deception, ‘A Thistle in the Mist’ is a fast-paced read set in Scotland and Nova Scotia in the early nineteenth century. It is entwined with family, humour, resiliency of the human spirit and characters that stay with you.

How did it feel when you first saw your book published?

It’s hard to put that feeling into words. I think I felt a mixture of disbelief, pride and relief – relief that I was finally able to let it go after 10 years!

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on book two, ‘Lost to the Mist’. It features Meara and her family and of course I am bringing back the much-loved villain, Deirdre. ‘Thistle’ is such a fast-paced story and I am finding it a bit of a challenge to keep that pace but it’s a challenge I’m up for! I have lots of twists and turns in store for my readers.

What words of advice would you give to any budding writers out there?

Never give up! If you have a story to tell, tell it. Edit like crazy and be sure to have it professionally edited. I believed I could edit myself but was extremely lucky to cross paths with a chap from the UK who generously offered to proofread and tone down my glaring ‘Canadianisms’. If you decide to self-publish, be certain to promote yourself through all avenues available and be careful not to cross the line between promoting your book and ‘shoving it down people’s throats’! Take the good with the bad and try and take something positive from every review you receive.

Social media seems to be playing a big part in the success of books these days. What are your thoughts on this and how active are you on various sites?

Social media, I’ve learned, is an invaluable tool. Facebook, Twitter and Google + are a few sites I’ve taken advantage of. Besides promoting your book, it’s the best place to connect with other writers. I’ve been lucky to connect with some fantastic authors worldwide whom I now consider friends. The group I chat with are hugely generous and have helped me immensely. They also make me laugh every day. Personally, social media has been my best friend. My day job took me away from social media for awhile and I saw a drastic drop in sales. When I resumed self-promoting via Facebook and Twitter, I saw an immediate climb in sales.

Every writer must dream of seeing the big screen version of their novel. Who would you like to see playing your lead characters?

Rachel McAdams would make a beautiful and feisty Meara but she’s Canadian. If she could pull off the Scottish burr, she would be my first choice. However, if I were to stick with actors from the UK, I would choose Emily Blunt – lovely and quirky.

I think, UK actor, Tom Hardy would make a dashing Duncan. He also possesses that vulnerable quality I feel is an inherent part of Duncan’s character.

Without a doubt, Tilda Swinton is the perfect Deirdre. Not only is she Scottish, she is an amazing actress and does evil very well.

Another Scottish actor, Robert Carlyle, has the physical characteristics to be a convincing Sloan. He knows how to do ‘bad’ without going over the top.

If you could find out the answer to one of life’s mysteries, which one would you choose?

Why do all writers procrastinate?

What would you do in life if you knew you couldn’t fail?

I’d give up my day job, move somewhere beautiful on the ocean and spend the rest of my life writing and enjoying my family.

Describe the most terrifying situation you have ever been in?

I was nineteen years old the night the police called our house and asked for my dad. The police officer would not give me any information but when my dad took the phone, the look on his face as he listened, turned my stomach to ice. My brother had been in a terrible car accident. I will never forget the terror I felt during the ride to the hospital or the relief that filled me when I saw my little brother’s face. He was badly injured and spent weeks in hospital but he recovered fully, thank goodness.

And the cliché question, four guests at your dinner party (dead or alive), who do you choose?

I would choose my grandparents. My father’s mother passed away when he was a baby and I never met her. My grandpa always told me I looked just like her so I’d love to meet her and see Grandpa spend time with her again, if only for an evening. My mother’s parents, Nana and Grandad, were a huge part of my life growing up and I miss them every day. I’d love to see them both one more time.

To find out more about Megan and her book, please see the following links.

Amazon               http://www.amazon.com/A-Thistle-Mist-ebook/dp/B00B2XML88

Website               www.megandenby.com

Blog                     http://notyouraveragelassie.blogspot.ca/

Facebook            https://www.facebook.com/AuthorMegan

Twitter                 https://twitter.com/megan_denby

Interview with David T Procter, author of Dead Men Lie

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This week’s interview is with David T Procter, a former plumber turned writer from the South of England. His novel, Dead Men Lie, is a multi-genre tale that includes romance, murder and adventure.

Welcome, David. Can you tell us about yourself in 100 words? No more and no less.

Born into a working class family I grew up in a council house in the early sixties. Even then I knew I was different, but unlike my siblings I was denied a grammar school education, not through inability, but because the family money had all gone. Only in later years did I discover the rich tapestry my family has left me. It is their stories I use to build my tales. I am proud of my heritage proud and thankful for who they were, and what I became.

Why did you decide to become a writer? 

I didn’t find writing, more like it found me. Having left school and become a self-employed plumber I was content to carry on perhaps until retirement. But for years, while under baths or scrabbling beneath floorboards, a story kept niggling away in the back of my mind. I didn’t do anything about it until one day a customer looked at an estimate I had prepared and said “you should write fiction this is pretty good.” That and a series of unforeseen circumstances involving a wife with deteriorating health issues gave me the kick I needed. My first attempt at writing was born but I soon discovered I had lost much of what my English teacher had drummed into me, so I enrolled in some creative writing courses. Even now I am still re-learning.

Tell us about your books.

My books are pure escapism; they have a beginning middle and end. I tried short stories but prefer the scope which the longer novel allows, the ability to develop characters and places. Forgotten Souls was my first book, a good story, badly edited and published far too soon. I removed it from sale, perhaps one day I will re-write it. I have at least six other books in draft form awaiting finalising so I am well stocked for many years to come. As for Dead Men Lie, my latest, that is something which I am most proud of (at the moment). It was born from an item I discovered while researching the family tree and just developed.

And tell us about the authors who inspire you. 

I love anything military and historical, combine the two and I am happy for days, I read Clive Cussler, Bernard Cornwall, Douglas Reaman and lots of other authors. I enjoy any autobiography of those who have lived a long and interesting life and hate anything to do with pop stars or so called celebrities. I actually read and like all the Harry Potter books by J K Rowling. I also like some of the classics but unfortunately not Dickens, and I have read and enjoyed Homers Iliad

How did you feel when you first saw your book published? 

Excited then frustrated. Forgotten Souls should have been better prepared; when I saw it I recognised my stupidity. Vanity had ruled my heart and since then I vowed no one would have control over my work. It was a salutary lesson to learn and an expensive one, now I control everything and so far, apart from one stupid error, it seems to be working out fine.

What are you working on at the moment? 

Once Dead Men Lie is re-launched in June, then I have a prequel to complete and a family history for my granddaughter. I want her to know where the family originated from and to know her background which I didn’t. It took my own daughter to ask where does the name come from to force me to learn and I am eternally grateful to her for that encouragement.

What has been the highlight of your writing career so far?

That moment came about a year ago. It was pure theatre and so very self-indulgent but it made my wife cringe, and me chuckle at the absurdity. To understand the significance I have to tell you that Dead Men Lie was banned by my local council. Seems we infringed their strict moral code somehow, any way the local paper ran the story, we made the front page. Which explains why, while doing our monthly shop in a crowded supermarket, I was approached by a woman who asked for my autograph. Notoriety has never been so appreciated.

Is there any advice you would give to budding writers?

So much I could tell them. Firstly listen to your heart, if it feels right it most likely is. Secondly believe in everything you do even if it is proven to be wrong. Lastly trust no one, we have been ridiculed, almost destroyed and told so often that the book will never amount to anything that we no longer listen. Remember it’s your work; don’t let anyone detract you from what you first envisaged.

Describe your writing day.

I wake at about 4am, have at least three cups of tea, than work for a few hours before the house wakes. This involves answering e-mails, checking the web site and reprising the previous day’s work.  If there is any time left I try and write at least a thousand words. Then, in the afternoon, I do the bulk of my writing and research. All in all, I aim to write at least four thousand words a day not all are used, most is either filed for future use or deleted, only a few nuggets of worth actually makes it into a story.

Social media seems to be playing a big part in the success of books these days. What are your thoughts on this and how active are you on various sites?

I have a web site, which works really well. While I am on facebook, twitter and Google+ Do these work? I am still debating that question. We all use them, but we all seem to gather on the same places, and lets be fair few authors buy other authors works or not in sufficient quantities. Do such sites attract readers? I think not but we have to be seen, perhaps one day, we will all get a chance of being front of house so to speak.

Every writer must dream of seeing the big screen version of their novel. Who would you like to see playing your lead characters?

Funnily enough we have discussed this at length. If the chance ever occurred I would have to choose English actors, some of whom may not be that well known. So for the Reverend Edward Bayles I would ask a fine character actor by the name of Philip Martin-Brown. I think he would give the character a lot of depth. Abigail Wood I would ask Michele Dockery best known for her role as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey, she is feisty but innocent at the same time. As for Benjamin Turnbottle I think another Downton actor would fit the role nicely he is Rob James-Collier who plays Thomas Barrow the under butler. These three would do my creations proud.

The world is ending and you are about to be blasted off into space – Bruce Willis style – to try and save mankind. You are allowed to take two people with you. Who do you choose?

I am too old to be jumping around saving anyone but Einstein and Benjamin Franklin would be interesting travelling companions.

If you could find out the answers to one of life’s great mysteries, which one would you choose?

I would love to know where all the shoe laces go to and if they share some third dimensional space with all the missing pens.

Share a personal fact about yourself that no one would know.

I play a mean Bass guitar, all self-taught.

You are on death row and it’s your final supper. What do you choose? 

Hopefully I will never find myself there but if the fates decree I would not prolong the agony something light, an omelette perhaps then get it over with.

What would you do in life if you knew you couldn’t fail?

Being at the birth of my daughter. I escaped the other two occasions but the wife was determined I would experience it once at least.

Share one quote that keeps you going in life.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step.”  Connected nicely to “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” From each end of man’s journey, rather poetic don’t you think.

Describe your perfect day.

Easy. A whole day with my darling granddaughter as she is now, innocent and full of life.

And the cliché question, four guests at your dinner party (dead or alive), who do you choose?

I know you expect names of great statesmen and politicians, writers or philosophers but I am going all sentimental. I would invite my mother who died far too young and missed my marriage and the births of her grandchildren. My five times great grandfather born in 1702 and to whom we all owe so much to. More importantly I would like to ask him where he was born and why he came to Sussex, information apparently lost. Lastly my dear departed gran so she could explain her side of the family to me far too complicated for a poor soul like me to unpick.

Find out more about David through the following links.

Website: www.davidtprocterbooks.co.uk

Blog site: https://www.blogger.com/home

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dead-men-Lie/552651668161522

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with Phil Simpkin, author of The Borough Boys series

Phil Simpkin

The subject of my third interview is Leicestershire’s master of rhyme and crime, Phil Simpkin, author of The Borough Boys series.

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Take it away, Phil.

 

Can you tell us about yourself in 100 words – no more and no less?

Late fifties; over-worked and under-paid aspiring, self-published author. Married; Two daughters; five grandkids at last count. Retired cop and emergency planning specialist. Likes – Guitar music – both playing and listening. Rock and Blues. In fact, there is little music I don’t like (except country and western – which I hate).Rugby Union. Golf. Fly and Carp Fishing. Drinking wine and whiskey , real ale, and anything else vaguely alcoholic on occasions. Currently part way through major lifestyle change for health benefits – a long and painful process. Also currently seeking employment – my royalties will not keep me to the style my wife is accustomed!

Why did you decide to become a writer?

As a young cop, I was fortunate to work part of the older, historic parts of Leicester. On dark, cold, winter nights, I often used to wonder what it would have been like to have been a cop in the days when cobbles, coaches and gas-lamps were the order of the day, and being a cop was still something of a novelty. I decided that not only would I find out – which lead to years of reading and research, but I swore I would write a novel about it when I retired. I retired in 2006 and finished the first novel in 2012. That’s why I became a writer.

Tell us about your books.

My books are a series of two novels featuring the Leicester Borough Police circa 1850. Samson Shepherd, a rookie cop, is taken under the wing of John Beddows, a hardnosed and street wise veteran. Together they set out to fight crime in what was a time of extreme poverty for most, and extreme luxury for a limited, fortunate few. Life was hard and unfair for many, and crime was actually a realistic option to life in the workhouse, or likely death from poverty. At a time when crime fighting was about wits, instinct, courage and tenacity, the series looks to expose the society and it’s problems, and create realistic, likeable characters that will grow through following novels.

Who would you like to see play the lead characters in a screen version of your books?

Sam Shepherd would have to be someone young and a little naive, but sharp and quick, so perhaps Daniel Radcliffe. John Beddows is a darker, harder yet honourable man, somewhat older – so Daniel Craig. The two Dan’s!

What are you working on at present?

I am part way through my third novel in the series, which will add a vast amount of detail to the personalities of my main characters, and introduce one or two new favourites. I am also looking for an illustrator for a children’s’ book I have written, a tale of an over-sized creature who becomes a folk legend. I also have a more contemporary novel underway, which will be much more humorous in format to The Borough Boys. My experiences in lifestyle change which I am running as a daily blog, will also become a diet / lifestyle change book after the end of the year I have given for the process – warts and all look at the pains and highs and lows of major weight loss and lifestyle change.

What has been the highlight of your writing career so far?

I started writing as a bit of fun, and to fulfil a promise to myself. I never, originally, saw it as a career or saw myself as ‘an author’. Not long after releasing my first novel, ‘Jack Ketch’s Puppets’, it went up to number thirteen in all crime thrillers on Amazon and Kindle book charts, amongst the best. I was sandwiched between Val McDermid and Lee Childs – albeit for just a few hours. That was surreal, and several people contacted me to tell me. When people talk about me as an author and I receive fan mail, I get really embarrassed, as I can’t see myself in the same light as the writers I enjoy. A few weeks after my second novel was released, I had both in the top 35 of all Amazon and Kindle crime thrillers – that blew me away. It looks impressive in charts, but sadly it doesn’t pay as many of you will identify!

Describe your typical writing day.

On a good day, I will get up and be at the keyboard for about 8 or 9am and my day will start with checking emails, social media posts and blogs. I then write my daily blog. Then I will concentrate on my next novel, and when it flows, I can get through 5 or 10k words. However, if I create something and realise that I am unsure of facts, I will distract and spend some time checking and double-checking facts, using Google, genealogy and historical directories, etc. I will work until four or five and then give time to family and friends. On a bad day I stare at the screen or just go off and play golf! I would sooner not write if I don’t have the heart to write positively.

If you could find out the answer to one of life’s great mysteries, which one would you choose?

Is there life after death? If so, I could perhaps stop worrying about dying and leaving people behind. Then again, would I have to have the same mother-in-law?

What would you pick for your final supper on death row?

It would have to be a full on Indian blowout. Papadoms and pickles; a good chicken or prawn madras; daal; parathas and a gallon of cold Indian beer.

Tell us about the most terrifying situation you have ever been in.

As a young cop, one night, one of my colleagues went missing. He had been doing observations from an old factory that was going to be demolished, and I was sent to search the building for him. I started to climb up a fire escape, and on about the fourth level, I had got two or three steps up, when it fell from the wall and crashed to the floor. I jumped off as I realised it was moving and landed on a landing. It turned out that they had started dismantling top down, but had not had time to remove the actual flight. That was my first experience of what we called ‘brown adrenaline’! My colleague was later found alive and well, asleep at the station.

Describe your perfect day.

To wake up somewhere in Mediterranean sunshine – preferably Menorca or Crete. A swim before breakfast. A leisurely breakfast whilst people watching, getting characters for my books. A few hours writing, perhaps. A round of golf. A stroll to a local taverna or bar, and an early evening meal and drinks. Some live music. The company of an attractive woman. When are you free?

And the cliché question. Four guests at your dinner party (living or dead), who would you invite?

There would have to be a great comedian – so Spike Milligan – just for the unpredictable and whacky! Someone fascinating – Pythagoras – so we could lie up looking at the stars and he could tell us about ancient Greece and all his theories. Someone interesting and at the same time, attractive – Joanna Lumley – or if she couldn’t make it, Elle McPherson (I can dream). Finally someone who has made a big difference to the world I live in – and as a cop – Sir Robert Mark – who stood out and stood up against bad cops, and made it a more honourable profession.

 

Interview with Timothy Hurley, author of Shortstack

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My second interview is with the very funny US based writer, Timothy Hurley, author of Shortstack, a collection of humorous short stories.

Take it away, Tim.

Can you tell us about yourself in 100 words? No more and no less.

I grew up on and near navy bases around the country, influenced by my parents’ Midwest roots. I found writing stories and essays to be my choice early on. The short fiction of Twain, Poe, Hemingway and science fiction writers became my guides. My medical career slowed my writing, while I moved about for training and work: San Francisco, Boston, Mayo Clinic. Upon retirement I trained at Gotham Writers Workshop and began writing for publication. The more humorous of these I collected into my first book, Shortstack. My works-in-progress, a second collection and a novella are due out in 2014.

Tell us about your books.

My first book is a collection of humor short stories written in 2012 and 2013. They range from absurdist satire to touching personal essays. Other stories have been published in anthologies: science fiction (“Dead Planet Scrolls”), gothic horror (“Poe’s Black Cats”), and literary magazines (“Waiting on Alma”). My collection, Shortstack, and several of my short stories are available on Amazon.

And what about the authors who inspire you?

Topping the list of master story tellers for me is Mark Twain for his wit and plotting. I very early latched onto O. Henry stories for the same reason. Hemingway’s sparse-word styling had a big impact on me since high school. More recent authors I admire are Dorothy Parker for biting wit,and Joseph Mitchell for characterization, a deceased New York writer who deserves increased recognition.

What are you working on at the moment?

My second collection of short stories, due out in late 2014, will be some of my more serious-minded works and exhibit my range of genre from literary to horror to science fiction. I will also include some creative nonfiction personal essays. One of my short stories decided to turn itself into a novella, Johnny Don’t March, which I hope to have finished by early 2015. I am also working on two memoirs. The first, Thirty Hours with My Father, is the story of my listening to thirty hours of self-recorded autobiography, gifted to me before his death. The other is my remembrance of medical school years.

What has been the highlight of your writing career so far?

I have been writing seriously since 2012, which isn’t a very long career, particularly at my age (70). The highlight has been publication of my first story in an online magazine and then my collection of humor stories in eBook and print-book. When that happened I felt like writing was really my second career, and I was on my way to being more than a hobby writer.

Do you have any words of advice for the budding writers out there?

The brevity of my writing career doesn’t stop me from giving advice. Routine advice is to keep writing, write everyday and read good authors as much as you write. I would add the importance of formal training in creative writing; learn the craft through classes, online study, reading books on writing. Books on screenwriting have helped my fiction writing. The other surprise for me was how slow the writing process is. A rough draft is usually about 20% of the effort and can take a few weeks. But the real writing is the 80% of the work in revision. That’s when the story really reveals itself. By the time one of my stories is ready for publication, it can be weeks or months, and I will have read and revised it twenty or more times.

Describe a typical writing day for you.

I commonly awaken between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. with story stuff rolling in my head. Those early mornings are best for rough draft writing, and I typically will put in two or three hours. When my brain says it’s had enough, I’ll take a walk with my iPod and run errands. Music speaks to my creative self, but not while I’m actually writing, when I like quiet. Paradoxically I can become absorbed in the writing in a coffee house; I have accomplished some good writing there when I start feeling house-bound in my small New York apartment. I also go to the gorgeous main reading room at the New York Public Library. Afternoons are not productive times for rough drafts for me, although I can do good revision work then. The final polishing for grammar and word choice, I seem to be able to do at anytime.

Social media seems to be playing a big part in the success of books these days. What are your thoughts on this and how active are you on various sites?

I know this is the conventional wisdom, and I do participate daily on Google Plus, Facebook, and Twitter. I think this is a good way to reach fellow writers, and I’ve made a number of friends online. I’m less convinced this is a good way to reach the general reading public.

The world is ending and you are about to be blasted off into space – Bruce Willis style – to try and save mankind. You are allowed to take two people with you. Who do you choose?

Bruce Willis and I are too old to save much of anything. Jason Bourne is probably too busy. Yoda would be good at giving advice but not flying the ship. I’ll bet Beevis and Butthead could save the world.

If you could find out the answer to one of life’s mysteries, which one would you choose?

I’d like to know how this Time-Space Continuum thing works. Also Carl Sagan never explained String Theory so I could understand it.

Share a personal fact that no one would ever guess about you.

No one, until now, knew I grow tomato vines twelve feet long, that I can flip my tongue all the way over, or that I make a killer cappuccino.

You are on death row and it’s your final supper. What do you choose?

Definitely I want something that takes the chef a long time to prepare—like those thousand year old Chinese eggs they bury in the ground. And then I’d add something that takes a very long time for me to eat and has many courses. Between courses I’d snack on New York pizza and Indian curry.

What would you do in life if you knew you couldn’t fail?

You mean like climb Mount Everest, or cure cancer, or publish my book? I already know I can’t fail, no matter what I do. My success, however, varies widely.

Describe the most terrifying situation you have ever been in?

Once I was in a restaurant that ran out of spaghetti carbonara. But that terror didn’t last. I substituted tortellini. Walking up the aisle at my wedding was pretty frightening. Oh, wait. The bride walks up the aisle. Hmmm, it could have been the time I walked across the Golden Gate Bridge at its fiftieth anniversary. But that wasn’t scary until later when I learned that the loud clanking noise we heard in the middle was when the bridge nearly collapsed.

Share one quote, or saying, that keeps you going in life.

I love quotes so I’ll share several of my favorites. Mark Twain: “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.” “When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.”  Elbert Hubbard (no relation to L. Ron): “To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.” Timothy Hurley: “Never run for an elevator. It looks needy.”

What would be the perfect day for you?

Two eggs over medium with dry rye toast and Red Rose tea, and the New York Times with headlines saying no one shot anyone anywhere in the world, and the haves were overcome with the urge to share with the have-nots.

And the cliché question, four guests at your dinner party (dead or alive), who do you choose?

I assume that you don’t mean I’m dead or alive and that the deceased are alive at least during the dinner party. I wouldn’t invite Papa Hemingway, who insists on being the center of attention. I’d love to have Poe if he avoided being morose. I can’t think of a single politician to invite. It goes without saying that Mark Twain would come and I’d place him at the head of the table. I’d consider Ghandi or Mother Teresa, but I’d be afraid they would just bore us with advice to be nice. And, of course, I’d bring my best friend, my wife, so we could talk about the guests while we walk home.

Interview with Paul Beaumont, author of A Brief Eternity

 

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I have been very fortunate to connect with a fantastic and supportive group of authors over the past year and my plan is to introduce them to you in a series of weekly interviews.

First up is Paul Beaumont, whose thought provoking and extremely funny first novel, A Brief Eternity, was shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize.

Take it away, Paul.

Can you tell us about yourself in 100 words? No more and no less.

To my general astonishment I find myself in my mid-fifties and enjoying my first proper adolescence. My teenage one was hijacked by God, who made me become a Christian but who, like Bad Santa, failed to deliver His Presence. I am a slow learner and it took me 25 years to leave my Imaginary Friend. At about the same time my wife left me, I lost my job and I had to sell the family home. What else could I do but become a writer?! In real life I work in the renewable energy sector, saving the planet. Go me!

Why did you decide to become a writer?

To impress my wife. We were going through a rocky time in our marriage and everyone knows that women cannot resist a writer, right? Well, that turns out not to be the case, as it happens, but once I had started writing I enjoyed the story so much I had to keep going. In the end, I created a book that a publisher was delighted to publish, but I’m now a bachelor, so I guess I won the battle and lost the war, in some sense at least.

Tell us about your book.

The Old and New Testaments are simply crying out for the sequel to make the trilogy complete, aren’t they? In spite of the fact that they have sold pretty well, God doesn’t seem interested in doing the job, so I’ve stepped in with my debut novel, A Brief Eternity. The book begins with the Rapture and the Second Coming, as you might have predicted if you know your Bible. Our hero, Jerry, is amazed to find that Heaven is real, and mortified to discover the same is true of Hell. Jerry’s life in Paradise has its good moments, but slides inexorably towards misery when he realises his girlfriend, Rachael, has been sentenced to an eternity in the Underworld. He makes it his mission to rescue her, a feat that will merely involve out-witting an omniscient, omnipotent God and all his angels. The story is, I hope, both thought-provoking and entertaining; it’s certainly a lot funnier than anything God ever wrote and has already received some great reviews.

If you could find out the answer to one of life’s mysteries, which one would you choose?

What triggered the Big Bang and how did the first self-replicating molecules self-replicate? (Strictly speaking that’s two questions, but I’ll get away with it because I’ve only used one question mark!)

Tell us about the authors who inspire you?

Philip Pullman, Christopher Hitchens, AC Grayling, Markus Zusak, Garrison Keillor, Ben Elton, Voltaire, Jean-Paul Sartre. Basically, anyone whose writing is either clever or funny, and preferably both.

How did it feel when you first saw your book published?

Enraptured!

What has been the highlight of your writing career so far?

Well, being short-listed for the Dundee International Book Prize was pretty cool; and receiving the e-mail saying “Yes” from my publisher was very exciting; but nothing beats the book launch party for A Brief Eternity. Fifty lovely, interesting, kind people came and made it the best book launch party I have ever been to. OK, so it was my first book launch party, but it was still the best!

What words of advice would you give to any budding writers out there?

Write something good, then find a publisher who is sympathetic to the genre. If no-one will publish it for you, publish it yourself. Don’t give up.

Describe a typical writing day for you.

Distraction activity. Read what I wrote yesterday. Fiddle with it. Distraction activity. Start writing new stuff. Distraction activity. Have lunch. Review new stuff; consider it rubbish and delete. Un-delete. Distraction activity. Decide new stuff is OK and write some more. Write something really funny and celebrate with well-earned distraction activity. Review new new stuff and realise it’s not so funny after all. Delete. Distraction activity. Un-delete. Have dinner. Decide new new stuff has potential after all and develop it. Get in groove and write undistracted for an hour or less. Distraction activity. Wrestle with new new stuff in order to avoid the guilt of an entirely wasted day. Eventually produce new new new stuff, some of which is OK. Pour glass of wine as it is now the early hours of the morning. Read through the day’s output. Resist temptation to Delete All; it’ll look better in the morning. Sleep.

What would you do in life if you knew you couldn’t fail?

Be a stand-up comedian

Share one quote, or saying, that keeps you going in life.

Eternity is a very long time, especially towards the end (Woody Allen)

What would be the perfect day for you?

Seeing my kids; playing tennis; reading something clever and funny; writing something clever and funny; watching a play; having a dinner party with clever and interesting guests.

And the cliché question, four guests at your dinner party (dead or alive), who do you choose?

Brian Cox (the physicist); AC Grayling; Tim Minchin; Woody Allen

 

To find out more about Paul, please see the links below.

 

Web-site: http://paulbeaumont.org/

Author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/paulbeaumontauthor?ref=hl

Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Brief-Eternity-Paul-Beaumont/dp/1908675217/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1387638599&sr=1-1&keywords=a+brief+eternity