Some believed in fate, and Darren was a true believer but when Julie never reciprocated his advances they just never happened. Until she was sent back in time to the 1970s and met Darren again in a way she never expected. #timetravel #paranormalbooks #iartg #wrpbks #RRBC

Julie should be dead, yet she was in someone else’s body and living their life through her eyes. And if things couldn’t get any worse, it was 1972. Julie Compton’s life should have ended when she crashed the car, instead … Continue reading

A heart-rendering read: The Beauty of the Fall tackles #grief @Marcello #poetry #literary

The Beauty of the Fall by Rich Marcello Ten-year-old Zackery Underlight is dead. His father Dan, however, is just learning to live again.  Dan Underlight, a divorced, workaholic technology executive, suffers lingering grief over the death of his ten-year-old son, Zack. … Continue reading

Check out this forbidden romance in a book from @wajdymustafa

Between Two Banks


Wajdy Mustafa

Selim falls in love with Julia, an older, married woman with children, who has moved from Aleppo to his village in Tartus, Syria.  He is due to leave the village to start his University studies but instead, they run away from their disapproving families to begin a life together in 70’s Beirut, Lebanon.
Julia teaches French and Selim works in an office, dreaming of marriage and children with Julia.  For her part Julia is more than she at first appears.  She has a past that she keeps hidden from Selim, one that involves Roger from Toulon in France. Gradually, this past becomes the present and eats away at their dreams.
This is a beautifully crafted, deeply moving and fascinating story, set mainly in Beirut, during the 1960s and 70s.
Between Two Banks, refers to the river of life which connects us all but can also separate us on opposite shores. This tale explores the historical, cultural and social connections and differences between France, Lebanon and Syria through the thoughts, experiences and interconnecting life stories of its three main characters, whilst set against the backdrop of emerging unrest in Lebanon.
It is a tale of love, passion and tragedy, which poignantly highlights the eternal human condition, as love pulls them together to explore its deeper, timeless magic and how crushing reality cruelly tears everything apart.
Wajdy Mustafa is a long-time Syrian political activist and writer. He was imprisoned without trial for 14 years.
He has written and published texts in many magazines and newspapers, written two published books and many screenplays.
In addition, he has managed a Publishing house.
In 2009 he was forced to seek Political Asylum in Austria, before relocating to the United States. He lives now in Northern California.

Getting an agent – Mortal Kombat style

Emlyn Chand

Do you like to play video games? Have you ever played Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Soul Calibur, or Super Smash Brothers?

If you’re a writer who has attempted to land a literary agent, then you have to some degree. Securing a literary agent is one part fight and one part game, and there are many rounds to this battle.

I’ve made it through the first match alive but slightly worse for the wear. Rather than explain my literary agent submission experience in lengthy, dramatic prose, I thought it would be more fun to turn it into a video game script.

Welcome to Book Basher Super Fiiiight Time—Hiyaah!

Deep in the snowy wasteland of the mid-January Midwest, our hero boldly prepares for battle. With nothing more than a six-time-revised manuscript and a dash of hope, she sets forth on her journey toward publication.

Meanwhile in the magical urban forest called
“New York,” an army of battle-weary agents also prepare for their day’s
journeys. They have emerged victorious many times before and think nothing of
today’s show-down.

Within the space of the cyber realm, at last
they shall meet.

Our hero goes forth, query in hand, with
minimal armor to protect her feelings. Although she has honed her skills for
more than one year, nothing could have prepared her for this first battle.

Emlyn vs. The Literary
Agents—Battle 1—Fiiiight!

OUR HERO: “I’m calling on my strength.” She
circles her arms and performs a sun salute.

AGENT #1:  “He, he. I will make you
cry!” She looks at our hero from over her shoulder, sticks out her tongue,
and winks.

OUR HERO inches forward, hesitantly, toward
her opponent

AGENT #1 performs a swift maneuver, pulling a
red rejection stamp out of her pocket and bringing it to rest on our hero’s manuscript—
KO—“You die too easily, hmmpf!”
Out in MAY!

Emlyn vs. The Literary
Agents—Battle 2—Fiiiight!

OUR HERO: “If I believe in myself, I shall
emerge victorious”

AGENT #2: “Don’t waste my time,” he growls
through his robotic sheath.

OUR HERO stands still staring at her massive
opponent. She can not forget the outcome of her previous match. She is
immobilized from this fear of failing again. She is almost too afraid to…

AGENT #2 sees his opponent’s hesitation. He
jumps high into the air and lands on our hero using a three-move combo—not for
us, misspell querier’s name, forget to mention ms title—BAAAAM!—KO—“Thank you
for giving me the opportunity to consider your work, weakling.” He laughs quite

Emlyn vs. The Literary
Agents—Battle 3—Fiiiight!

OUR HERO: “If I persevere, success will
surely be obtained.”

AGENT #3: “This is an automated reply—beep—if
you do not hear from us with 8 weeks’ time, then we have determined your work
is not a right fit for us—beep!”

OUR HERO: sighs, shrugs shoulders, and sits
to wait for her opponent’s arrival. Weeks pass by, months—no word from Agent
#3. Our hero stands up and jumps off the edge of the screen, effectively
eliminating herself from this battle—KO!

Emlyn vs. The Literary
Agents—Battle 4—Fiiiight!

OUR HERO has hurt herself in the fall. She
has spent weeks recuperating under the guidance of her writing sensei. Now, she
is finally ready to approach battle again. She has lost almost all of her
optimistic fervor. She now expects to lose but that doesn’t mean she won’t
continue to train hard and try her best in battles.
AGENT #4 emerges from the shadows and glares
at our hero hostilely. “Let’s make this quick.”

OUR HERO stares back. “I’m not afraid of
you,” she says. And she’s not. They can’t scare her anymore. She’s suffered
many defeats, what harm will one more do? Even with the slightest chance of
securing victory, it’s worth fighting, it’s worth suffering another humiliating
and painful defeat.

AGENT #4 removes a stack of papers from her
satchel and prepares to fling them at her opponent, Chinese star style.

OUR HERO sees the approaching onslaught and
jumps high into the air, landing at the agent’s back. She brings out her

AGENT #4 attempts to do a low-back kick but
misses our hero.

OUR HERO makes her attack. “I will not be
ignored. My name is Emlyn Chand and THE IRON PILLAR is an 85,000-word work of
multicultural women’s fiction…”

AGENT #4’s eyes glaze over. She has been
caught in our hero’s trap. Now she has no choice but to listen. She can attack
again once our hero’s attempts at securing victory have finished.

OUR HERO: “The most important of which is
love for oneself. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to
hearing from you.” Having used the only move in her repertoire, our hero raises
her eyes above her query letter and waits.

AGENT #4 is still in a trance-like state. The
well-written query letter has calmed her. She puzzles over her thoughts for a
moment, and then—“Yes, I am interested. I would like to request a partial
OUR HERO jumps high into the air, doing an
elaborate spin kick. She cannot believe what just happened. She won, she won,
she won! No KO this time. She lands on feet as light as the air.

AGENT #4: “This, of course, is only the first
step. If I like your partial, I’ll request a full, if I like your full, I will
consider offering representation.” She snaps her fingers and vanishes back into
the tangle of the urban forest.

OUR HERO is left all alone in the cyber
realm. She hadn’t realized that she would have to face this same agent again.
The agent will be back, no doubt, stronger, more vicious. The only thing to do
now is to wait and prepare herself mentally for the next battle. Our hero sits
down cross-legged and begins to count the blades of grass that cushion her
bottom. It shouldn’t be too long now…

Update:  Emlyn actually did get a literary agent four
months after she wrote this post! He’s currently shipping around the
aforementioned manuscript. Meanwhile, Emlyn decided counting blades of grass
wasn’t a productive use of her time and chose to self-publish her second novel,
Farsighted, the first in a YA
paranormal series.


Alex Kosmitoras’s life has never been easy. The only other student who will talk to him is the school bully, his parents are dead-broke and insanely overprotective, and to complicate matters even more, he’s blind. Just when he thinks he’ll never have a shot at a normal life, a new girl from India moves into town. Simmi is smart, nice, and actually wants to be friends with Alex. Plus she smells like an Almond Joy bar. Yes, sophomore year might not be so bad after all.


Unfortunately, Alex is in store for another new arrival—an
unexpected and often embarrassing ability to “see” the future. Try as he may,
Alex is unable to ignore his visions, especially when they begin to suggest
that Simmi is in danger. With the help of the mysterious psychic next door and
new friends who come bearing gifts of their own, Alex must embark on a journey
to change his future.
 Book Teaser: Alex Kosmitoras may be blind, but he can still
“see” things others can’t. When his unwanted visions of the future
begin to suggest that the girl he likes could be in danger, he has no choice
but to take on destiny and demand it reconsider.

Buy from:  and

Emlyn Chand has always loved to hear and tell stories, having
emerged from the womb with a fountain pen grasped firmly in her left hand (true
 Farsighted is her
very first novel. When she’s not writing, she runs a large book club in Ann
Arbor and is the president of author PR firm, 
Novel Publicity. Emlyn loves to
connect with readers and is available throughout the social media interweb.
Visit for
more info. Don’t forget to say “hi” to her sun conure Ducky!

Laikonik Express has been described as ‘Sideways with Vodka’ – literary fiction

by Nick Sweeney
Nolan Kennedy is a young American teaching English in Istanbul and hanging out with his alcoholic friend Don Darius. Don might also be the greatest living American novelist judging by the script Kennedy finds in Don’s trash. But Don has left town and Kennedy had better find him and persuade him to get serious about the book before Don decides to get serious about the vodka. The catalyst Don thinks will help is finding the woman he met on the Laikonik Express. Kennedy and Don embark on a journey to find her in back-of-beyond Central Europe but en route find much more than a mysterious woman.
Cover designed by Ian Nettleton – it hits exactly the right notes.

Laikonik Express has been described as ‘Sideways with Vodka’. It’s basically a picaresque-type trip through the Poland of the early 1990s, set in Warsaw and in a small town on the coast I’ve called Abel – ‘a place for the daytime, and the summer’, as my characters kept getting told. Unfortunately, Don Darius and Nolan Kennedy, two 30-something American slackers, find themselves there on a winter night, after a colourful journey on the Laikonik Express, the train that runs from Krakow in the south of Poland to Gdynia on the Baltic Sea. They are in search of a woman Don has met on that same train, but find a different woman, and a different point-of-view, and some pointers towards redemption from their self-centred preoccupations.

Passage from Laikonik Express pp168-170:

There was nothing on the water apart from a guy in a rowboat some way out, fishing, they guessed, crazy, certainly; maybe he had been there since New Year’s, frozen to his boat, with nobody screwy or sober enough to go reel him in.

Kennedy recalled the Baltic beach scene from Gunter Grass’s Tin Drum, shit-stirrer Oskar and his mom watching a longshoreman fish off a shore a lot like the one he looked on now. The guy had a rope tied to a horse’s head and had let the sea carry it out; he reeled it in and it was full of black eels, trapped by their greed in gristle and bone. The sight of it made Oskar’s mom barf, turned her brain on the spot and drew her into suicide. Kennedy thought the scene was meant to have convinced her that the world was a corrupt and evil place; never mind the fact that the entire continent was in the grip of Nazis at the time.

Krystyna pointed at the nearby ruin, said, ‘That was the church of Saint Barbara. I went there every week, when I was young.’

Don and Kennedy drew their attention to the building, a skeleton of fused, blackened bricks and stone, and burned wood that resembled leather. It was held up by rusted scaffolding. It looked forlorn and dangerous.

‘It could sure use a lick of paint,’ Don said, and Krystyna turned to him and let out a bark of a laugh.

‘In the summer after mass we bought candy from stalls along there on the front, and the adults bought beer, and we played on the beach and paddled in the water, and the day seemed to go on for so long. It was like a…festival, and we looked forward to it very much.’

‘Well, that was one way to get you all to church,’ Kennedy said.

‘Oh yes.’ Krystyna nodded. ‘They were not foolish, those priests and parents of ours.’

‘What happened to it?’ Kennedy asked.

‘A German ship,’ Krystyna told him. ‘It shot at the pleasure boats in the yacht marina first. That was the day the war started. I think when we saw that, we knew that we were not fighting against…gentlemen. Then it turned the guns on to the church. It was just for fun, or maybe target practice. The ship passed up the coast, toward Gdynia, and then people came running to put out the fire, but they were too late. They were aching to get on with it, those Germans, we could tell, when they shelled Abel. And then we were very afraid, and we knew that it was the end of our lives as we had known them.’

Poland was full of churches, though, Kennedy was about to observe, but prudently muttered only, ‘That’s too bad.’ He tried to imagine what it had been like, stood on the edge of the land, gazing out at the start of the second world war, heard Don say a soft Jesus next to him.

‘Why do you write?’ Krystyna, tired of the war and the idea of it, or just used to it, maybe, aimed the question at Don.

‘Why?’ Don deflected it at Kennedy.

Kennedy did not know why Don wrote, just knew that he should. The movement of his shoulders probably failed to put that over.

‘You,’ Krystyna said. ‘Keats, Shelley – why?’

Dumb question? Probably. Kennedy did not know. He saw himself up nights, lit by a square of screen that displayed what at the bottom line was just the end of a series of mechanics: brain, fingers, binary numbers, stuff that looked like words. And why? He saw Don in that kitchen in Bakirköy, tapping out a version of his life that had been altered by the fears in his imagination…but why? Just so it could be the start of a process that had led him to that shore, a continent away from anyplace he could call home, trying to think of an answer?

And why were they stood on the edge of that frozen land talking, when they had come all that way in the name of action? Kennedy would rather have known that. Who cared what anybody wrote, when others were fishing and freezing, dying indeed or just luckless in love and dying inside?

‘I don’t know.’ Don realised how underwhelming that had to have sounded, and hurried out, ‘Just get the urge one day, write down the thoughts going through my head, change them around a little…Not a natural urge, I guess. I mean…Well, take a look at Barnacle Bill out there.’ He pointed to the fisherman. ‘Sits and reels in his fish. He has thoughts going through his head, right? But he doesn’t feel the need to come and spill them out so other people can know them.’

‘Maybe he does.’ Kennedy thought Don was being unfair to all the little people who got exactly that same urge one day, just like Don himself, and wound up writing books.

‘No. Sure, he’s got thoughts, like anybody else, but he isn’t going to spot us here on shore and row like a fool to come share them with us. Not going to write them down, either.’

Krystyna nodded, waiting for more, though Jack was not bothering to pretend that he was anything other than cold and agitated, and worried about his mom.

And Kennedy was thinking, Out on the water in the sub-zero, unless you’re truly certifiable, all you think about is keeping warm enough to reel in those frozen fish fingers. Hey, but then you’d need to be certifiable in the first place, even to be out there…

He sent a look to Jack that said, See the kind of thing I have to put up with, huh? He was not surprised to see the same look returned.

‘The urge finds you,’ Don said. ‘If that’s what it wants to do. And if you’re willing. He knows.’ He tossed his head at Kennedy. ‘He writes, too.’

‘A little kid’s urge.’ Kennedy was glad to junk lofty old Keats and Shelley. ‘To tell what he sees.’

‘To show the world how smart he is.’ Krystyna had a leather-clad finger aloft to say ah-hah. ‘For scientists, the same thing. There is no point in doing it, we used to think, unless everybody knows you have done it. My point, Mister Dariusz, is prompted by another question.’

‘What question would that be, ma’am?’

Krystyna said, ‘Do you want to find this woman just to show her that you are a clever man, and can find her if you want to? If that is the case, then I think you should go there now, and she can answer her door and you can examine her face to see if it is delighted or not.’ She laughed. ‘Or her husband’s face, to see if he too will be as pleased.’

Kennedy almost applauded the trap Krystyna had opened in the middle of what he had been dismissing as highbrow small-talk. There they were, then, back on-topic at last, without even realising. He and Jack perked up and closed in on Don.

Nick Sweeney is a special writer; erudite and cosmopolitan, simultaneously clever yet warm, droll yet melancholy. Laikonik Express has a range of references and obsessions that are much broader and more intriguing than those found in most contemporary novels. It is a meditative comedy, and also a great read –
Geoff Nicholson.

Nick Sweeney’s Laikonik Express is one of those rare things: a debut novel that is both original and immediately recognisable as a work of true voice – Lee Rourke.
Contact Nick Sweeney:
Website, The Last Thing the Author Said:
Twitter: nikone3na
Unthank Bookstore for sample pages and ordering:
Facebook: under my own name, Nick Sweeney (among the many with that name!)
Trans-Siberian March Band: and all over youtube

Click below to an interview with Nick!

Hi Nick, and welcome to Wise Words. Tell us a little more about yourself?

I’ve worked as a civil servant, in various catering jobs here (London) and abroad (mainly Paris), and as a teacher (here, in Istanbul, small Polish town Gliwice and in Warsaw). I have been a reader of children’s books for a software company, and an editor in educational research and other fields. At the moment I am a freelance writer and editor and a musician, guitar player, singer, writer and arranger with burlesque Balkan troubadours the Trans-Siberian March Band, certainly the most fun part of my creative life; playing to big crowds brings an instant fix that writing, by its nature, lacks. I have been published on a regular basis in Ambit magazine, which has been very supportive of my short stories. Laikonik Express, available from Unthank Books on 1st April, will be my first published novel.
I lived in Poland for 4 years in the 90s, after a 3-year spell in Turkey, so I picked up a lot of impressions I wanted to put into a book, finally – I’ve kept out of the ‘disguised travelogue’ trap, I hope. I’ve had short stories published over the years, mainly in Ambit magazine, and have one in the current edition (which I’d be happy to send you). I’m also working on other novels. You can read some of my work on my site here: I’ve long felt cultural ties to what we call ‘eastern Europe’ – as my family background is Irish, I can’t explain it, really!

What inspired you to write Laikonik Express?
The novel is set in Poland, in 1992. After living there on and off for about four years, I had left by the time I started the novel. Part of me wanted to recreate and celebrate one thing I had observed there, the country’s strange atmosphere, especially in the winter and especially away from tourist centres, its silence in the snow, and the way its people dealt with it. I lived there at a time of great change 1992-1996, when the future was very uncertain. ‘Things will be better’ – how? ‘Capitalism will happen’ – how? What do these general statements of hope mean to ordinary people? I didn’t want to write a travelogue, nor some knowing ‘history-as-it-happens’ type of thing. I was still an outsider. I also wanted to put some of the things that happened to me in the story – I travelled extensively by train across eastern Europe in the years I was away, and very often on the Laikonik Express – and recall some of the people I met in passing.

I looked to the community of people abroad of which I was a part, but didn’t want to write an isn’t-teaching-EFL-a-funny-ole-game type of story. One thing that often struck me about myself and the people I got on with was that we felt that we never quite fitted in wherever we were; not in our own countries, not where we were living (in Turkey, and in Poland). We didn’t want to create little corners of England or America nor take part in those created around us, nor did we want to ‘go native’. We weren’t necessarily always happy this way, but it seemed the only way. A lot of people say that teaching EFL isn’t a ‘real job’ – they’re right and they’re wrong: if you hit the right place, you can take it as seriously as you want to, and make a career out of it, and, if you don’t want to, you can fake it fairly easily. I gravitated towards other slackers; we recognised one another. I wanted to examine in some way in the book, the feeling of aimlessness that often seemed to define us. It’s also a look at both friendship and romance, supportive but non-intense, self-assured relationships that, for me, always seem to work best – I seem to have had better friendships with people I can be detached from, so that, even if I haven’t seen them for some years, I can still say we’re friends.

What’s the genre of Laikonik Express?
I don’t think it fits into a genre. It’s literary fiction, whatever that means. To me, it’s simply about writing a story that may feature a romance, or a crime, or an adventure – I’m not into so-called ‘abstract’ writing, so story is always paramount for me – in a register that doesn’t have to conform to any genres, that forms a scheme of its own within the book, that may stray into the poetic (but not too often, and not for the sake of it) that helps to create the world I’m trying to portray in the pages. I’m trying to put my own stamp on a familiar world, or get into the world that may lie inside it and, for the duration of the story, to make a part of that world my own, and, if they like it, one that readers can inhabit freely.

And its story?
Put simply, it’s the story of two men who distract themselves from their basic unhappiness, and aimlessness, with their friendship, who take chances – I think friendship can, and sometimes should, be about risk – and time and trouble just to see what will happen. So it’s about hope, on one level; if you take a chance, things could go in any number of directions, but you need that spark of optimism to believe that some good will come out of it. It doesn’t arrive of its own volition, and your contribution is to risk a little bit of yourself. The book is also, to a lesser extent, about absence, of people, of certainties and how (back to this) if you have hope and take risks, you can prepare for such absences, and replace them, or, if not, deal with them in some way, and not be overwhelmed by them.

I said above what kinds of book I didn’t want to write, but I’m not sure if I ever knew what kind of book I did want. Sorry it sounds a bit vague, and a thing said by ‘creative types’, but the story seemed to fall into place as it went along. My other novels have been, in general, very tightly planned.

Was there a character you struggled with?
Not really. My characters have been inspired by people I have known and still know. In that respect, some of them arrived at the book fully-formed. As ever, in fiction, events and people being ‘real’ is not enough; they have to be tailored to fit into the altered reality of fiction. There was a character based on myself in an early draft, but as he never physically appeared in the story I had to get rid of him. (I don’t mean a narrator; it was more digressions during which the characters, to amuse themselves, discussed ‘me’. It was a bit self-indulgent and, frankly, weird.) Most of the characters in the book were easy to put onto the page, but the one that took the most work was thirty-ish Polish guy Jacek. In the first draft he was pure nerd, intense, awkward, insular, difficult, but I realised this also had to do with how I made the main characters see him – ultimately quite negatively. This wasn’t fair on either the people on whom I may have based him, or on the reader, or on the other characters either. Sometimes it’s easy to have a negative character for people to laugh at/despise, but I saw it, by the second draft, as a bit of a cop-out; it takes a lot more skill to make a character warts-and-all but retain the reader’s empathy. That’s probably basic writing school stuff, but I am sometimes amazed at how much I still have to learn…

How many unpublished books do you have lurking under your bed?
I have at least two novels I regard as unpublishable, but which I’m happy to keep hold of and remain, somehow, attached to. I recently found the first two thirds of a novel I abandoned in 1992, done on a typewriter. As I’d forgotten the details, I came to it like a new reader and, in between the eye-rolling and wincing, was relatively impressed, and I may revive and finish it. It’s called Angelika and the Forgers, and if that sounds like a Tintin title it was probably deliberate. I have ideas for several more novels at the moment, so am not ever down about ‘abandoning’ novels; if they don’t work, they just don’t. Unfortunately, sometimes you have to write them to find that out.

How did you find your publisher? How do they treat you? Would you recommend them?
I had given up writing for a while, partly to concentrate on music and partly, quite honestly, in the face of publishers and agents being generally underwhelmed by my work. I’d continued getting short stories published by Ambit magazine, whose editors Martin Bax and Geoff Nicholson have always been solid supporters. I found Unthank Books’ call for submissions, and liked the sound/look of them – books ‘not published by accountants’ – and especially of Ashley Stokes’ Touching the Starfish, their first publication. There’s something that just grabs me about certain presentations, language or images used – I’m never sure why. We have an informal, friendly relationship, which works for me. And yes, I would recommend Unthank – the Unthank crew are very cool. I think I’m lucky to be able to work with people I get on with – maybe it isn’t always necessary when you have a professional approach, but it really helps when you click with people artistically and personally.

What’s the best/worst part of being a writer?
Creatively? The best thing is the ability to form a little world, whether in a novel or short story, and see it working, somehow, on some level. As a lifestyle choice it leaves a lot to be desired, but keeping my own hours is a bonus, as I have never been very good at keeping other people’s. The worst part is also keeping my own hours, and the need to plan my time carefully. I am easily distracted, and have a lot of interests, both cerebral (music, art, films, etc) and physical (the need to practise the instruments I play, cycling, cooking) and also, of course (in case I appear a bit lofty and highbrow here), by time-draining drivel on the internet and the TV. I really need to plan my week carefully, or I end up with at least a day or two during which I seem to have achieved nothing. I am also in a relationship, and relationships always need special attention, time to themselves.

What is the most productive time of the day for you to write?
Anytime, in theory, though I do a lot of writing at night. I also like getting up ridiculously early and writing, a practice partly picked up from my paid work as a freelance writer, and my sometimes bad habit of deadline-surfing.

Do you start your projects writing with paper and pen or is it all on the computer?
I don’t have any particular pattern, but certainly have written stories, and very recently, out in my best, and worst, handwriting. I travel quite often, and travel quite light, and don’t want to take a laptop or a netbook – it’s just more techie crap to get anxious about in case it gets lost or stolen or goes wrong. A pen and a notebook don’t take up much room, and you can just rock up anywhere and buy them.

What/who do you draw inspiration from?
Often, observation of people, travelling, passing, snatches of their conversation, a look on a face, a gesture; a man with teeth that remind me of brazil nuts, a girl who stops in the street and empties out her handbag onto a hedge, the Albanian kid banging his head on the seat in front on the bus. Other writing, novels and short stories, news reports – especially crytpic three-line ones – but also a range of other cultural impulses, including TV, films, art, music, architecture, travel. It’s a chance to slip opinions of/celebrations of/enthusiasm for these things into my work without my doing some academic-type tract that would bore everybody and add nothing to the subject – I think I’d be the first to say these interests are spontaneous, incomplete, rather than scholarly and thorough. It’s a way of furnishing these small, created worlds. My story The Architect Interrupted by His Creations (Ambit 188, spring 2007 – see ) is a good example of what I’m talking about here. One one level it’s ‘sort of’ my take on Italian Futurism, so is strewn with Futurist imagery, and also features my fascination with Roman/Byzantine art and architecture, without these things taking centre stage. I hope it introduces these elements without distracting the reader from the most important thing, the story, and that they don’t read it and feel they’ve just had an unwanted lecture on art or architecture.

Books I love include Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and The Little Friend, Peter Carey’s My Life As a Fake, Charles Sprawson’s Haunts of the Black Masseur, Christopher Woodward’s In Ruins, Annie Proulx, Barbara Kingsolver and Anthony Loyd’s My War Gone By, I Miss It So. I like the writing of Tom McCarthy, Lee Rourke, Tobias Hill, Justin Cartwright, and William Boyd, among others. My favourite genre-type books are Alan Furst’s eve-of-World-War-Two novels – I think they’re informed and literary in the same way Eric Ambler’s are. I’m not a big TV watcher, but stuff I’ve liked includes Twin Peaks, Carnivale, and 1980s ‘Operation Bernhardt’ comedy Private Schulz. I love the films The Maltese Falcon (which features in Laikonik Express), The Mask of Dimitrios, La Strada, Gadjo Dilo, Arizona Dream, Sweet and Lowdown, American Graffiti – I especially like stories that take place on one night, or day. And loads more in addition to all these – my tastes are very broad.

Do you set yourself goals when you sit down to write such as word count?
Only vaguely, but I should – they’re more on the lines of ‘let’s get this bit done/started/redone’. I admire writers who decide on a word-count, get on and do it, and are playing tennis, in the pub or walking the dog by midday. I tend to write either until I’m fed up with it, or it’s not flowing very well, or until I’m distracted by the idea that it’s getting light outside and I really do need to get some sleep. Very haphazard, and far from ideal.

What are you working on now that you can talk about?
The novel I’m keen to finish soon is called Cleopatra’s Script. Though it’s nearly done, I keep taking years off from it to pay attention to other stuff. One difficulty is that the last quarter of the story could go in any number of directions, all of which appeal to me sometimes, none of which seem plausible at others. It’s set in Rome in the 1990s, and centres on a young British man and a young French woman who fall in love just as, somewhat inconveniently, they manage to piss off some local gangsters and blunder upon the identity of a child murderer.

It could in some ways be set anywhere – once again, I’m not making a travelogue out of it – but I find that Rome, and Italy in general, has a special atmosphere. This is partly made up by its people and their sense of pride and tradition, summed up by the legend SPQR, or Senatus Populus Que Romana, appearing everywhere, despite the distance in time of the Roman Empire, and the fact that they live among, and upkeep, ruins. There is a moral atmosphere in Italy (bourgeois Italy, anyway) that comes close to stating that the only crime is actually lack of discretion. Despite this, the Italians in general remain kind, compassionate, and, surprisingly (to me, anyway) reserved people.

Finally, it looks at the status of the Roma in Rome – I mean here the many Gypsies who live there, displaced in the 90s by the wars in ex-Yugoslavia. How does a kind people regard them? With a schizophrenic view, sometimes.

This looks like a lot of ‘issues’ stuck together, but most of these make up the background, and I think part of a novelist’s skill is in doing just that, avoiding issue rants and weaving it into the big picture behind the characters as they go through the story.

You can read the first few pages of Cleopatra’s Script here:

I am also working on a novella called The Fortune Teller’s Factotum. Ashley, a mature but unhappy teenage girl, examines the way her life is going since she dumped all her friends for the older man she was going out with, until he dumped her. The small town in which she lives is unforgiving, and scornful. How does she get her life back in gear? Her father has gone on holiday with his girlfriend, a daytime TV star, who has left Ashley and her sister to care for their celebrity cat, beloved of millions of daytime TV viewers, so it was probably unwise of them to have a party, during which the cat ends up very sick indeed, and so on. Does this read like a children’s story? It feels/reads like one at times. I’m not sure I will ever get a teenage girl’s voice very accurate, so may change the orientation/characters.

I have a few short stories in various stages of planning, execution and completion, as ever.

How do/did you deal with rejection letters?
I’ve always been pragmatic; every writer gets them, and you can’t freak out about them. I don’t mind the fact that they’ve been run off in the thousands, and don’t tell you anything that the writer is thinking – don’t even confirm, in fact, that the person whose signature appears has even read your work. I don’t expect a personal letter. The first time I visited an agent’s office I pointed at a two-feet-high pile of typescripts on a table, asked, “Is that this month’s?” “It’s today’s,” I was told. I get slightly wazzed off with rejection letters that have an advert from the publisher on them; you know, ‘we didn’t want your book, blah blah, have you considered buying our latest how-to-write/how-to-handle-rejection book?’ That’s crass – it’s opportunism at any cost, and I’d like to know which marketing tw@ thought that one up… I have a hilarious personally-written rejection letter from a small press publisher, which will go on my website soon.

Do you have a critique partner?
Yes and no. My wife reads everything I write, if I’m ready to show her. I don’t think she’s over-compensating for any possible bias in being savage about some things I produce – she’s like that about anything she reads/sees, and has a low suspension of disbelief, whereas I’m more the type that believes that Star Wars actually happened. I didn’t see any of the flaws in a heroine in one of my novels until my wife pointed out that she was totally irritating and uninteresting – once she’d pointed it out, it was very obvious. She is also very encouraging, and is equally generous with praise, and I trust her praise because it’s sparing, and considered.

I’ve belonged to a few writers’ groups, the best of which was Out of Reality, which met in a London pub from 1998-2003. It was raucous and hilarious, and the critiques may not always have been of the best quality, but it was fun. I’ve belonged to others which were much more formal, one of which I liked a lot, the now-defunct West Hampstead Writers’ Group, and another which didn’t work at all – it was all down to the personalities involved; OOR and the WHWG worked well because there was just the right degree of friendship and distance. I may join another, soon.

Author Jane Rusbridge, who is nominated for the IMPAC award, talks to us about…

Devil’s Music
It is 1958 and the Sputnik satellite has taken a dog up into space; back on earth, five-year-old Andy has a new sister, Elaine – a baby who, his father insists, is ‘not quite all there’. While his parents argue over whether or not to send Elaine away, Andy sleeps beside her cot each night, keeping guard and watching as his mother – once an ambitious, energetic nurse – twists away into her private, suffocating sadness.
Knots keep treasures safe, Andy’s rope-maker grandfather tells him, and, as he listens to stories of the great Harry Houdini, Andy learns the Carrick Bend, the Midshipman’s Hitch and the Monkey’s Fist. Then a young painter, hired to decorate the family’s house, seems to call Andy’s mother back from the grief in which she is lost. But one day, at The Siding – the old railway carriage that serves as the family’s seaside retreat – Andy is left in charge of his baby sister on a wind-chopped beach, where he discovers that not all treasures can be kept safe for ever.
Three decades later Andrew returns from self-imposed exile to The Siding, the place where his life first unravelled. Looking back on the broken strands of his childhood, he tries, at last, to weave them together, aided by his grandfather’s copy of The Ashley Book of Knots and the arrival of a wild-haired, tango-dancing sculptor – a woman with her own ideas about making peace with the past.

‘A novel of such calibre whets the appetite for more’ – The Irish Examiner

‘A highly original, fresh, new talent of rare quality’ – The Lady

‘Beautifully written and a real page turner’ – Essentials
‘One of the most interesting and beautiful novels I’ve read this year’ – Brighton Argus
‘Vividly and intensely written’ – Jane Rogers
Jane Rusbridge lives in a tiny South Downs village in West Sussex. She is married to a farmer and they have five children between them.
She has an MA in Creative Writing  from the University of Chichester, where she teaches at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Jane has had short stories and poems published in anthologies, and won or been placed in several national and international competitions including the Writersinc ‘Writer of the Year’ award (2005), the Ilkley literature Festival competition (2005), the Bluechrome Short Story competition (2005), the Bridport (2003, 2005) the Fish Prize (2006) and the Writersinc award (2008).

The Devil’s Music, her first novel and published by Bloomsbury in July 2009, is described as ‘a beautifully told story of family secrets and betrayal, involving knots, Harry Houdini and the shifting landscape of memory.’

Jane is represented by Hannah Westland of Rogers, Coleridge and White.

At the end of the interview there is an extract of Devil’s Music to whet your appetite.


Click below for the interview

What inspired you to write The Devil’s Music?
The Devil’s Music was inspired by a child case study written in the 50s by the psychologist D.W.Winnicott about a child who tied things together with string. After reading it, I kept seeing, in my mind’s eye, an image of a boy with blonde hair, head bent to a ball of string. The case study made me angry: I wanted the boy to tell his own story, give his own reasons for his fascination with knots. In the case study, tying things together is a ‘perversion’: in TDM, knots are what ‘save’ him.

So, what’s it about? What is the genre?
The Devil’s Music is about a mother who ‘leaves’. An agent described it as commercial/literary fiction. The novel explores family secrets, the effects of both what’s said and what’s unsaid on a child growing up. It’s also about the fallibility of memory.

It seems like a very deep, tear-jerking read. Did you find the research harrowing to do?
The most heartbreaking research was reading the case histories of women who for one reason or another live, or have lived apart from their children. It is still a taboo and such pain is caused by the stigma attached to being a ‘mother apart’. A furious sense of injustice drove me. My aim with TDM was to give both the mother and her little boy who is obsessed with knots an ending which may not be exactly ‘happy’, but is at least hopeful. Several readers have commented that they found the novel ‘cathartic’. I think that’s a good thing!

Was there a character you struggled with?
The novel is narrated by a mother and her son, Andrew, as a child and as an adult man. I struggled with writing Andrew as an adult, not because he is a man – I have written male characters before without struggling – but because he is withdrawn and uncommunicative. His head is filled with knots! He doesn’t like talking much, so finding his voice in first person was tricky. Andrew evaded me for a long time. Nevertheless, I felt a strong empathy with him, which helped me to persevere.

How many unpublished books do you have lurking under your bed?
There are no novels under the bed! Writing The Devil’s Music took about 6 years and the process was a slow and steep learning curve. In terms of the number of discarded and reworked full drafts of TDM, you could say there are about half a dozen under my bed, but all of them trying to find a way to tell this same story.

How did you find your publisher?
My agent sent the novel out to three publishers, one of whom was Bloomsbury. I am very happy with the way the novel and I have been looked after, and I have recommended Bloomsbury to other writers. My editor, Helen Garnons Williams, is completely brilliant and seems to have understood both my novels better than me. My publicist, Katie Bond is tireless and enthusiastic, and thanks to her, plus the efforts of the sales and marketing team I have had lots of opportunities to get out and about to promote the novel around the country.

How long did it take to find your agent? How did that “phone call of acceptance” really feel like?
I was lucky. Of the first three agents I sent to, two wanted the novel – so I had to choose! It all seemed to happen very quickly, a couple of weeks after I sent the novel out. That whole time was surreal, hearing total strangers saying wonderful things about TDM and talking as if the characters were as real to them as they are to me. After the first phone call, I wandered in a daze out to the garden where my daughter was sunbathing and burst into tears. She thought someone had just died!

What’s the best/worst part of being a writer?
I love most stages of writing, but for me the most exciting times are when connections between various bits of research, ideas, accidental discoveries – all these things coincide and the story begins to fall into place. Is that serendipity, or synchronicity? I love the sense that the story isn’t mine at all, but already exists somewhere in the ether; my job is to try to get it down on paper without any damage. The worst part of being a writer is when I’m not doing it well enough, when self doubt interferes.

I can identify with that only too well! How “finished” was the book when your agent took you on? Did you need to change it much?
It wasn’t finished when Hannah took me on. The last 5,000 words were sketched out in note form only and the beginning chapters were all over the place. Hannah, my agent, worked with me to finish it over the summer and we sent it out in the autumn. The most significant changes were made once I was with Bloomsbury. Helen, my editor, never says ‘cut this’ or ‘add that’; she asks probing questions and makes suggestions. The imaginative detail is up to me, which is just how I like it. Her passion for the novel gave me the confidence to cut thousands of words from the beginning. I also spent weeks fiddling away, line by line, at the opening and the final pages.

What is the process like? From receiving The Call to holding the book in your hands, how long did it take?
Between The Call and publication was quite a slow process. In April 2007 I had an agent. We knew Bloomsbury were interested quite early on but because the novel still needed work, it wasn’t until April 2008 that I signed a contract with them, for two books. Then in July 2009 TDM came out in hardback. Two years from agent to publication!

What is the most productive time of the day for you to write?
At the moment I write best in the morning and then, after a break, in the late afternoon/early evening, but I can write anytime if necessary. My OH and I have 5 children between us and when I was writing TDM they were all teenagers. I wrote whenever I could find any space and time.

And Devil’s Music is nominated for an award, isn’t it? Tell us about that?
It’s the 2011 International IMPAC Literary Award. Nominations are made on the basis of ‘high literary merit’ and come from selected libraries in capital and major cities around the world. The first prize, at 100,000 euros, is bigger than the Booker. It’s quite a quirky prize and I bet it’s the only time I’ll be on the same list for anything as Margaret Attwood!
(Click on the link to be taken to the nominations).

Do you start your projects writing with paper and pen or is it all on the computer?
I write straight onto the computer, but scribble a lot in notebooks throughout the whole process – little plot details, or spider diagrams of scenes I’m trying to reorder. I do always use several notebooks.

What/who do you draw inspiration from?
This is a hard question because the sources of inspiration are different for different stories. In general terms, a love of reading inspires me, other authors. I consume books with a kind of greed. With individual stories, often several things come together to spark inspiration. With TDM, the specific trigger for writing was Winnicott’s case study, but I’ve been interested in memory for a long time – especially childhood memories, the painful ones we suppress, and others which we imagine are the ‘truth’ , only to find our siblings have an entirely different memory of the same event. I also have a bit of a ‘thing’ about rope, and an old book of my father’s about knots.

Do you set yourself goals when you sit down to write such as word count?
I was on a course once with Toby Litt who announced in no uncertain terms we should turn off our word count facility! That was a relief. I don’t like word count goals. People’s minds work in different ways but for me, numbers are too sterile and work against creativity, which is a much messier and chaotic thing than numbers of neat words on a page. I need to play around and make a mess. If I have word counts as targets I do endless sums which involve time and numbers of words and whether or not the right total will be reached before my deadline – how can that help a story grow? I am a slow writer and that is a bit of a worry, so I’m disciplined about setting aside clear blocks of time for writing/thinking/working on the novel in whatever way.

I love your book cover. Did you have any input into the design?

Yes – which is unusual. My daughter (Natalie Miller – link above leads you to Natalie’s website) read the climax chapter of the novel and then took some photographs on West Wittering beach, near where we live. We sent them into Bloomsbury and they loved them. The art department have put the design together beautifully, especially for the hardback. We are both delighted. The hardback cover is my favourite.

What are you working on now that you can talk about?
My current WIP is Rook, a novel that I’m very excited about. It involves rooks (of course), mud, Anglo Saxons, 1066, stars, burial illegitimacy and stillbirth. Rook digs around in history to find the stories told as myths and traditions.

Is this a similar genre to Devil’s Music?
Yes, a similar genre, and involving family dynamics, but it’s also about stories and the interconnectedness of things, of past and present and of landscape and people.

How do/did you deal with rejection letters?
Rejection letters hurt. Ten years ago I started sending short stories and poems out to competitions. It was a rejection to hear nothing, but you deal with it. Tell yourself it just has to land on the right desk at the right time. Sometimes it’s down to luck: with TDM I was very lucky, because two agents of the three I sent to were interested. Even so, when the third sent a note saying: ‘we just didn’t like it enough’, the pain was physical. That told me I still need to toughen up some more!

Do you have a critique partner?
I have been in the same writing workshop for years. The four of us did our MAs together and formed a bond. One is a poet. I think all prose writers need a poet every now and then to help keep an eye on the words, the right words in the right places. I also swap novel drafts with other novelists, such as Karen Stevens, who is a colleague, Kathy Page, a Canadian writer to name just two. With Rook, Helen, my editor at Bloomsbury, has made the most difference. She has helped me see the novel as a whole much more clearly.

Extract – Devil’s Music

I’m alone under a high sky. Clouds race across the blue, skim in reflected shoals over puddles and hollows in the wet sand. I’m holding Susie’s rubber bucket. Far away, made small by distance, a man digs for lugworms.

You’re in charge, Andy, my mother said. She picked Susie up and put her on one hip. They went to get ice-creams.

My shorts are wet and clinging. I have tipped out Susie’s morning collection of slipper shells, bits of razor shell, the joined pairs of purplish shells she calls butterflies, and now the bucket is filled to the brim with water. Tiny cracks appear in the stretched rubber handle. The water’s surface glints, tilting like a flipped coin; the slanting O almost reaches the lip. It will spill.

I put the bucket down. At my back the sea heaves and drags.

The rubber bucket is old. Once, it was mine.

I look up towards Jelly’s carrycot, a long way away on the pebbles. Then down to the edge of the wet sand where Jelly lies on my towel by the pool I’ve dug for her. She was lumpy as a bag of coal in my arms and nearly as heavy; my chin knocked on her head and my bare feet burned on the pebbles. But she was too hot and squashed in her carrycot. She couldn’t stop crying. Further up the shingle bank my mother’s empty deckchair billows red and white stripes.

Honey is circling, nose down. Round and round Jelly and our pool. I see Jelly has rolled onto her stomach. Honey sits down. She barks once; twice. The man digging for lugworms pauses and looks up, a foot on his spade. Goose bumps rise on my arms.

And now my mother is racing, skidding down the steep shingle slope, a clutch of ice cream cornets held high. Pebbles bounce and slide. Far behind, by the row of beach huts with their shuttered doors Susie holds her arms high, hands like starfish, stiff in the air.

My mother reaches the pool. She stands rigid. The ice creams topple and fall. She bends to scoop Jelly from the sand and wraps her arms around her. My mother lifts her face to the pale sky, her mouth wrenched open.

And that’s when I hear the high pitched sound, a keening that goes on and on and doesn’t stop. It doesn’t stop when the lugworm man throws his spade to the ground and begins to run, doesn’t stop when the bucket drops at my feet, doesn’t stop when I’m crouched low, hands covering my ears.

Young novelist, Mihai Cristian reveals his debut book:

La Tiers du Cylindre
“In a city as big as this one, nothing is tragic anymore. Everything becomes information. Deaths, births, diseases, fires, accidents, all become news, only meaningless data that must be sorted and stored in our mind for a while, than erased. No wonder history repeats itself.”

When a New York socialite falls in love with a singer, his life is changed forever. But there’s something strange about the woman he loves. Something tragic in nature, something deep inside her eyes. We never get to really know anyone. Not even ourselves.
How much of our lives do we actually control? How much of it is actually chaos? How much of ourselves do we really know? What about the others around us? Mihai Cristian’s debut novel is trying to figure out exactly that. Every good story begins with a couple of questions.

Author, Mihai Cristian is a young Romanian writer who currently resides in the city of Constanta. In 2006 he was awarded first prize in the Nicolae Labis National Literary Contest, in 2010 he was awarded first prize at the Tinere Condeie Literary Contest and was a winner of the Nanowrimo Contest. La Tiers du Cylindre is his debut novel.
Click below for the interview: age group is your book geared towards?
It is really a book oriented toward all ages.

Into which genre would you say your book falls?
Literary Fiction. Maybe Romance, even though I don’t really like that definition of my novel.

Tell us a little about La tiers du cylindre?
Well everything started when I decided to take part in Nanowrimo. I figured it was exactly what I needed, especially since I was having some problems with writing (the famous writer’s block). After the contest was over I ended up with this draft that I wasn’t sure what to do with.

But you did do something with it! Your finished “draft” is published. Where can I get a copy? Are there e-books and hard copies available, too?
I am a self-published author with Createspace. Yes, there is a kindle edition available on, where my paperback edtition is available. Being self-published wasn’t really a choice for me because I’m from Romania. It would have been very difficult for me to find an agent and I decided to try it on my own with my first novel. I don’t know if I would self-publish my next novel as well.

What is your favourite scene in your book? Can we have a snippet?
My favourite scene is the one when the two main characters are having lunch at this restaurant and they hear this old song:

“In the restaurant there was this old jazz song playing. It strucked me as being a very passionate song. Refined. Have you ever heard about the Stendhal sydrome? It causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting and even hallucinations when someone who suffers from it is exposed to art, especially a piece of art that person considers to be overwhealmingly beautiful. I’m pretty sure I don’t have the Stendhal syndrome, but as I listened to that song, I knew it was the closest I would ever be to having an authentic Stendhalian reaction to a piece of art.

“It’s a beautiful song isn’t it? I asked Alice.

“Quite so. It brings to mind all the glamour of the roaring twenties.

“Or at least, the way we perceive those times to have been.

We both listened to the song without even touching the food on our table. The song really was amazing.

“It’s sad that this song is going to end.

“All songs end. But that’s no reason not to enjoy the music.

I like to think that was the most we could ever expect from a moment. A subtle perception of something being so close to perfect. The feeling that we were part of something great. But such a moment was not meant to last.”

Have your characters or writing been inspired by friends/ family or by real-life experiences?
What writer isn’t? I was inspired by my own experiences, my own failures and the people around me as they influence my life and my personality. Every story has a little bit of the author in it. Sometimes you just have to look really close to find that piece. Every day life is inspiring. I guess that’s what inspiration is actually. The world around you as you see it. The world being transformed in your mind into something else.

Can you sum La tiers du cylindre up in one sentence?
A lonesome individual trying to find a place in the world.

Who is your favourite character and why?
It has to be Alice, a singer that has to carry around her own mistakes and misfortunes. I guess I feel this way about this character because it is based on an actual friend of mine and that makes the character feel alive.

Which comes first for you – characters or plot?
In most of my stories, nothing seems to happen. I tend to emphasize characters and their emotions and thoughts more than plot development.

What marketing have you been doing to help sales?
I have been submiting my novel up for reviews on various site, I have been advertising on Facebook and other online alternatives. That’s everything I can do actually, since I am some thousand miles away from where all the fun stuff happens.

This is the beauty of the Internet! No matter where you live, you can meet people at the touch of a button. So, what is the most productive time of the day for you to write?
I write mostly at night.

Ah, a night owl! And do you start your projects writing with paper and pen or is it all on the computer?
Sometimes I write fragments of stories on paper, but usually I write on my computer.

Do you set yourself goals when you sit down to write such as word count?
I usually write for as long as I have something to write. I don’t write because I want to but because I have to. When I feel I have a great idea, or image in my mind, something I can’t get rid off, I write for as long as it takes for that idea to appear on my computer screen.

What drives you to choose the career of being a writer?
I’ve always loved reading. And being read is the greatest acomplishment a writer could have. I don’t think about succes as a writer in terms of financial benefits.

What is your writing process like?
When I began writing I thought that it was supposed to be fun, but most of the times is not. You get confused and angry when, after five or six hours of writing, you end up with something you consider to be nothing but a waste of time. That’s why I usually write only when I feel like it. There is no reason why you should force yourself to write.

Do you belong to a critique group?
Yes. In Romania. It is called Aterlierkult.

How did you get into writing?
It’s a funny story actually. I remember that I was fourteen years old and it was a dark winter night. It was snowing and I had this strange feeling. I wouldn’t call it a vision or something like that, but I had this idea about a novel. And that’s when I started to write.

Most of my novels have their origins back in my childhood, when I was making up all kinds of stories. I was a bit of a loner as a small kid and I used to stay inside a lot. That gave me a lot of time to imagine all sorts of stories for my toys.

Are you working on another book?
Yes, I am working on a novel called “The next 24 hours”. It is about a bunch of people and the following 24 hours after their biggest desires come true. I’m still working on the plot and the characters so I don’t have that much to say about it.

What mistakes do you see new writers make?
They see writing as some kind of job or business. They should remember that writing should be the one thing that makes them happy and the one thing they really enjoy doing.

What advice would you give aspiring authors?
That it’s not about what they write or how they write it, it’s about the person they are when they are writing.

What is your website and/or blog where readers can learn more? Can they friend you on Facebook or Twitter?
I have a Facebook page:!/pages/Mihai-Cristian/182878531737456?v=wall and a blog:

The Testament Of Mariam by Ann Swinfen

The Testament Of Mariam
Ann Swinfen is Mariam? Her family in Roman Gaul know her only as a refugee from far-off Judah, without other relatives or friends. For more than thirty years Mariam has herself turned her back on the past, but now a series of events forces her to confront it. In her final illness, that past begins to haunt her, as she looks back on a youth and early adulthood during the turbulent events of the first century ad under Roman occupation, and amongst a people who refused to accept the yoke of the Empire. Born in the north of Judah, in the rebellious territory known as the Galilee, Mariam grows up in a hard-working peasant community, mutinous, impatient, unwilling to accept the traditional role of women in her society. Running away from home – against all conventions and propriety – to follow her charismatic brother Yeshua and his best friend Yehuda, Mariam shares in the excitement, the fear and the mystery, but at the last witnesses the apparent betrayal of the one and the tragic and brutal death of the other.

From 1995 Ann Swinfen chaired Dundee Book Events, a voluntary organisation promoting books and authors to the general public. Her first three novels, all with a contemporary setting, The Anniversary,  The Travellers and A Running Tide were published by Random House, with translations also into Dutch and German. Her latest novel, The Testament of Mariam, marks something of a departure. Set in the first century, it recounts, from an unusual perspective and within a human context, what has been called the greatest story ever told.

Ann Swinfen now lives in Broughty Ferry, with her husband, formerly vice-principal of the University of Dundee, a cocker spaniel, and two Maine coon cats.

She is being discussed on the review site YouWriteOn and her book, The Testament of Mariam is being described as “something to make you think”. As historical novels go, this is one to read.

1. Tell us about your current book?
The Testament of Mariam is set in the first century, partly in the southern part of Roman Gaul, near present-day Marseille, and partly in the Roman-occupied province of Palestine, known to its Jewish inhabitants as the land of Judah. Mariam has fled her homeland thirty years before and settled in Gaul, since when she has closed her mind to what happened in her childhood and youth. Now she hears that the last of her brothers is dead – murdered – and the past begins to haunt her as she slips into her last illness. The story continues, weaving these two timeframes together, as Mariam’s past and present resonate with each other.

A rebellious child, unhappy in the restricted life of a Jewish peasant, she adores her older, gifted brother, Yeshûa. At fourteen she is betrothed to his friend Yehûdâ, but the marriage is not consummated, because Mariam and Yehûdâ both follow Yeshûa as he sets out in the hope of persuading people that they can find a new kingdom, a new dispensation, through kindness and love. ‘We were young. We were going to change the world.’ Ironically, Mariam feels they have failed, when her brother is crucified and she and Yehûdâ are sent by him into separate exiles.

The seed of the idea was a desire on my part to try to work out what the real man and his family would have been like, buried underneath 2,000 years of theology and church hierarchy. Jesus (Yeshûa is the Aramaic form) had sisters, although Mariam is fictional, and I wondered what it would have been like to be the sister of such a man. Mariam can never quite accept that he is divine and constantly tries to find rational explanations for events that others accept as miracles. This is neither a religious nor an anti-religious book, but an attempt to portray what it must have been like to live in an occupied country whose inhabitants never accepted Roman rule, but constantly rebelled, to be put down finally, bloodily, at about the time Mariam dies. I also found it intriguing that many of Yeshûa’s followers were women, at a time when a woman was expected to stay at home, under the total power of her father, until she was handed over to the control of her husband. Yet these women wandered the countryside and were present at the crucifixion (when the men had fled). In the years that followed, women were driven away from the centre of the church by the misogynistic church fathers.

 The Holy Land has been a place of conflict for centuries – even millennia – and the struggles of 2,000 years ago set the pattern for what continues to this day.

 2. Why that genre?

It isn’t a genre novel, unless you call literary fiction a genre!

 3. What gives you the stimulus to write literary fiction?

This is the type of fiction I mainly read. I have nothing against genre fiction, it just isn’t the kind of thing I want to write, so I suppose you could say that the stimulus is that I write the sort of fiction I enjoy reading. Don’t we all?

 4. Have you tried to write in another genre?

All my novels are literary fiction. The first three had contemporary, or near-contemporary, settings, but also strands from the past. This latest is historical, but it too has two time-lines, interwoven.

 5. Is your book a stand-alone or part of a series?

The Testament of Mariam is stand-alone, as my previous novels have been. When my first novel (The Anniversary) was published, my editor at Random House was keen for me to write a sequel, but I felt that it was complete in itself. I had said all I wanted to say about that group of characters. I can see the advantages for both writers and publishers of series, particularly crime series, but I’m always eager to move on to something new.

 6. Have your characters or writing been inspired by friends/ family?

No, not really. Though I think all writers draw on their own life experience, however much that may be modified and shaped in the course of writing. Our knowledge of people and their hopes and fears, our familiarity with the relationships between people and between individuals and society – all of these have to come from our own experience, but experience is transmitted and transmuted through the creative imagination to become something new and fresh.

 7. What are you working on now?

I’m superstitious about this! I never talk about my work-in-progress until the first draft is completed. All I can say is that it is again a literary novel in which two stories are interwoven, stories which are very widely separated in time and space.

 8. What is your favourite scene in your book? Can we have a snippet?

I’m not sure I have a favourite, but here is part of the betrothal in The Testament of Mariam.

 Daniel and I were sitting on the ground under the fig tree that shaded our house, sharing a pomegranate. I had halved it with the knife I wore at my belt. With a small sharp twig, I speared the juicy seeds one by one and fed them alternately to Daniel and myself. We were both very sticky and very happy. Even now he loved best to be with me, though I knew that before long he would want to run through the village playing with the other children of his age. He still limped, and I feared that he might suffer for it. Cripples were not treated kindly amongst us.
I looked up to see Yeshûa standing before me. Yehûdâ was at the far side of the courtyard, apparently studying the distant hillside. My brother squatted down on his heels and opened his mouth to speak. I popped a pomegranate seed into it.
‘Every pomegranate seed, a lucky day,’ I said.
He grinned.
‘An old wives’ tale, but a good one,’ he said. ‘No, wait,’ as I prepared to feed him another. ‘I need to speak to you.’
‘What is my crime this time?’ I asked.
‘No crime. Good news. I think you will think it is good news.’
I cocked my head at him. I could not tell whether he was pleased or not.
My brother continued, watching me carefully.
‘Yehûdâ has asked our father if he will consider a betrothal between you. He went back to Sepphoris to ask his father’s permission.’
My jaw dropped.
‘Yehûdâ and me!’
Yehûdâ was rich, handsome, well travelled. What would he want with a girl like me?
‘You know he has always been fond of you. He even suggested it to me years ago, when you were just a little girl.’
‘What is your answer, Mariam?’ Yehûdâ asked.
I held out my hand to him.
‘My answer is yes, Yehûdâ.’
He kissed my fingers and I saw from his smile that he could taste the juice on them. Then he kissed me lightly on the lips. I was not sure that he should do this, but there was nothing furtive about it. We were in full sight of my parents.
‘Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely,’ he murmured, with laughter in his eyes, and kissed me again, not so lightly this time. ‘Thy temples are like a piece of pomegranate within thy locks.’
I had to catch hold of his arm to steady myself, for the sun, it seemed, had made me suddenly giddy.
‘Thy lips drop as the honeycomb,’ I whispered, ‘honey and milk are under thy tongue. I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate.’

 9. Do you have an agent or have you gone alone?

I have an agent, I’m with Greene and Heaton (fairly recently). My original agent was Murray Pollinger, and when he retired the agency was sold to David Higham Associates. I wasn’t happy there, so I was glad to move. However, in the current economic climate my agent wasn’t able to place The Testament of Mariam with a mainstream publisher. A lot of editors were very keen, and it looked at first as though we would have an auction between three of them, but the money men gave it the thumbs-down, so I decided to go with the Arts Council subsidised YouWriteOn scheme.

 10. Who is your publisher, or who do you SP with?

My first three novels (The Anniversary, The Travellers and A Running Tide) were published by Random House. The Testament of Mariam was published by YouWriteOn. On the whole, I have been happy with the latter, which gave me complete control over the appearance of the book, and the quality is very good. Also, as I have worked as an editor, that aspect of preparing the manuscript gave me no problems. There have been just two things I’ve not been totally happy with. The first is having to do all the publicity and marketing myself, which I don’t feel I’m very skilled at. The second is the fact that YouWriteOn only allows a 10% discount to retailers. In a market where 30% is considered a poor discount and 50% is the norm, this means that bookshops are very reluctant to stock your book. This low discount is supposed to ensure that authors receive £1 per copy sold, but if bookshops won’t stock your book, how many will sell? The books are available from a number of online booksellers (Amazon, Waterstone’s, Barnes & Noble, W H Smith, Tesco, etc.), but inevitably you lose out on all the people who would simply see your book and pick it up in a bookshop. No one is going to buy your book online unless they have already heard about it somewhere else.

 11. Would you SP again?

Probably, but I still have the reservations I’ve mentioned.

 12. Thoughts on SP? I.e. do you think the line on SP and traditional is closing?

Yes, I think the traditional publishers will find that all the new methods of publication are going to have a profound effect on the whole world of book production. At the moment, I don’t think they see SP as a threat, probably because there have been a lot of poorly written, badly edited, sloppily produced SP books in the past. That is changing. The physical quality of SP books can match anything the traditional publishers can produce. As long as authors who self-publish reach a good standard in their writing and employ a professional editor, then SP books will be a serious rival to commercial books. However, the main disadvantages will be, again, the two things I’ve pointed out already – adequate marketing and discounts to match what bookshops expect. Another rival to traditional publishing is the ebook, but, personally, I don’t like them. I prefer my books to have individual personalities, not to be just a mass of grey-on-grey on a screen!

 13. How long does it take you to write a book?

How long is a piece of string? A lot depends on the amount of research involved, and I always seem to write things which require massive research! I’ve never completed a book in less than a year. Once the research and planning are completed, I have been known to write a first draft in six weeks. It’s the preparation beforehand, and the editing and polishing afterwards, which fill up the rest of the year.

 14. Which comes first for you – characters or plot?

Always the characters. Generally the characters in an initial situation. The plot evolves as the characters evolve. I don’t write detailed synopses in advance, as I find that is the kiss of death to creativity. I know where I’m starting and I generally know roughly where I’m going to finish; I know a few milestones on the way. The rest develops as I write. Before I start each chapter, I usually note down (briefly) the scenes I want to cover in that chapter, though things can change in the course of writing.

 15. How did you get into writing? Did you always want to become a writer?
Yes. I learned to read very early, at the age of three, and books and writing have been an essential part of my life ever since. I wrote as a child, became uncomfortably self-conscious as a teenager, then did a great deal of academic writing (lectures, research papers and the like). I also did quite a lot of journalism. Finally, I said to myself that I’d better make up my mind to get on with the creative writing if I was ever going to do it. The Anniversary was the result.

16. What mistakes do you see new writers make?

The commonest mistake is to try to write something perfect as soon as pen touches paper or finger touches keyboard. New writers will often worry away at that first chapter, or even those first few pages, going over and over them, without progressing. Eventually the words become almost meaningless, enthusiasm wanes, self-doubt overwhelms the poor writer. (And we all suffer from self-doubt.) The most important thing is to forge ahead to the end of the first draft. Never mind if you feel it’s rubbish. Finish it!

 17. What advice would you give aspiring authors?
  • Write the kind of book you enjoy reading.
  • Read and read and read good writers.
  • If  you need to do research, do it before you start, but realise you may need to look things up later. When you hit such a point in your writing, make a note of what you need to check later (at the editing stage), but keep writing, unless the point is so crucial that you must look it up. However, don’t let yourself become distracted!
  • Complete your first draft before editing and polishing.
  • If you find it difficult to start each day, read through what you wrote the previous day. This will usually remind you of what you wanted to say next.
  • If you find yourself truly stuck, either do something completely different – go for a walk or a swim, meet a friend for coffee – or else write something which is not part of your novel. Quite a good trick is to write a letter to yourself, complaining about the writing problem. Sometimes articulating it will solve it.
  • It’s often a good idea to set your completed first draft aside to stew for a while, before you start editing. You will come back to it with a fresher eye. If ideas occur to you during this period, make a note of them for later use.
  • Polish your manuscript until you cannot make it any better. If there are any passages about which you feel uneasy, you are probably, instinctively, right. Cut them or rewrite them.
  • When it’s as good as you can make it, try to find some one who is not emotionally close to you to read it. You need someone with good literary judgement, who isn’t afraid to hurt your feelings! A writers’ group, a online peer review group, or a reputable literary consultancy are all possible.
  • Have the courage of your convictions! Send it out to agents and publishers or self-publish. Remember that every great writer was once a beginner.

Read more about Ann Swinfen here
Ann has also published a book of literary criticism: In Defence of Fantasy

Thank you Ann, it’s been a pleasure.