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Monthly Archives: November 2011

Author Spotlight no.36 – Deborah Swift

Complementing my daily blog interviews, today’s Author Spotlight, the thirty-sixth, is of Deborah Swift.

Deborah Swift is a historical novelist and poet who spent many years travelling the UK working as a set and costume designer for the theatre and then at BBC television before settling in a small village on the edge of the English Lake District. She has many active hobbies including taiko drumming, tai chi, and tango dancing, all great antidotes to the sedentary writing life. (And yes, she has noticed her hobbies all seem to begin with a ‘T’)

She enjoys teaching creative writing and mentoring other novelists, and has an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University. She is a member of The Historical Writers Association, the Historical Novel Society and the Romantic Novelists Association.

And now from the author herself:

I started life as a poet and only came to writing historical fiction in the last few years. I wrote a short piece of experimental prose about the lady’s slipper orchid, and the critique group I was working with liked it so much they suggested I should extend it. This initial impulse became chapter one of a novel (now published by Macmillan and St Martin’s Press) and since then I have had to catch up quickly with the genre of historical fiction.

I had never particularly been a historical fiction fan, and read mostly contemporary literary fiction, but I thought I had better start somewhere. I picked Philippa Gregory to begin with and was amazed at how much history seemed to be packed between the pages. I had to learn quickly how to maximise my research time by taking copious notes, by always making time for photographs and by having a handbag big enough to fit the many brochures and photocopies I collected.

The research aspect and the fact that historical fiction is often lengthier than other genres means each book takes me about eighteen months to write. I have found it impossible to carry all the information I need in my head and I carry a lot of notebooks. My system of research is to do a “general recce” of the particular time and settings, followed by a much more in depth research period after writing the first draft. What I love about historical fiction is that the characters’ tensions can often be externalised more in times when a dispute means reaching for a sword. I have a lifelong love of the theatre and film, and this gives potential for a very visible drama. Of course the joy of any novel, and something I love about literary fiction, is the chance to encounter the inner tensions of the characters too, so I hope I have managed to balance the internal and external dilemmas in a way the reader finds engaging.

My next novel The Gilded Lily will be published in 2012, and the third in 2013.

What I am reading now: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, The Courtesan’s Lover by Gabrielle Kimm and The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.

You can find more about Deborah and her work via… www.deborahswift.blogspot.com, www.deborahswift.co.uk and www.royaltyfreefictionary.blogspot.com. You can buy ‘The Lady’s Slipper’ from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. Reviews for Deborah’s novel have included… ‘Top Pick!’ RT Book Reviews – ‘Brilliant saga’ Romance Reviews Today – ‘Riveting narrative’ For the Love of Books – ‘Rich and haunting’ Reading the Past

Morgen: History was my worst subject at school so it was lovely to read about how you fell in love with it, thank you Deborah… and I love your cover. :)

The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with non-fiction author Berney K. Dorton – the one hundred and fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can read / download my eBooks from Smashwords (Amazon to follow).

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2011 in ebooks, interview, novels, writing

 

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Guest post: ‘Moonscape to Paradise and back?’ from Lou Allin

I’m delighted to bring you this guest blog post, today on the topic of mystery settings, by mystery author Lou Allin.

Moonscape to Paradise and back?

Canada is known for its sea-to-sea-to-sea pristine, jaw-dropping scenery, but one place has been a national joke since World War One: the moonscape around Sudbury, the Nickel Capital. At the opposite end of the country, both geographically and environmentally, is Paradise, aka Vancouver Island. They’re more alike than you’d think.

I knew nothing about Sudbury in 1977 when I jumped at a job offer at the college. Surveying the core mining operations in Coniston and Copper Cliff, I saw the blackrock as vast as Manhattan which had earned it world-class shame for hosting the training astronauts on its barren hills. Lumbering, act one, had started in the 1880s. Discovery of nickel meant that the next decades brought open-pit roasting and then fifty years of acid rain. With no trees or ground cover, soil melted off the bare land, and the rocks darkened. Clear blue lakes became too acid to sustain life. Then in 1972, the Superstack (1247 feet high) was built to scrub the air pollution. Taking their cue, the entire community, business, students, government and private citizens began a monumental re-greening extending into the twenty-first century. Thanks to a cocktail of “rye (grass) on the rocks” and twenty million hardy pine seedlings, when I left in 2006, that moonscape was green again. For its unprecedented comeback, the city received an award from the Earthsummit in Rio.

As a mystery author emissary, I did my part in the Belle Palmer series to convey the chronicle, warts and all. Every book traced the long and worthy journey, Northern Winters are Murder, Blackflies are Murder, Bush Poodles are Murder, Murder, Eh? even to the last, Memories are Murder, which involved the relocation of elk after an absence of eighty years. That Superstack was always puffing in the distance as my character drove from meteor-crater Lake Wanapitei into town. I mentioned the honeycomb of tunnels in that fortunate metal package delivered into the Cambrian Shield, tunnels which put together would make a path to Vancouver in distance. Little by little the Copper Cliff area returned to green, though it would never support trees taller than a hundred feet. Fish swam in the buffered lakes. I knew I had succeeded when readers from across Canada told me that they wanted to visit. “You make it sound so beautiful!” they said. My books even filled the shelves at the log cabin Visitor Centre.

I moved to the other end of the country to Vancouver Island. “Welcome to Paradise,” everyone said. Expecting to marvel at the temperate-rainforest wilderness, I found a country under siege.

Those who keep to the streets of Victoria and ferry across the picturesque straits don’t realize the dirty secret that is clear-cutting. Not that the island hasn’t been logged several times in most areas over the last hundred and fifty years. Now the timber companies now have found ways to transmute that scarred land to pure gold. In a recent backroom deal, they convinced the government to let them turn their cutting leases into real estate at a million an acre.

By the time islanders woke up, considerable damage was done. A few places were saved, such as the Potholes area in Sooke. However, the surfing territory around Jordan River and back into the hills may be dotted with hundreds of vacation cabins. The government squirms in the ironic position of having to buy back land from the timber companies who were to have served as stewards, not self-servers. Clayaquot Sound, once a clarion call for activism, is one again threatened with mining as well as logging. Where I live west of Victoria, hundreds of logging trucks speed by weekly, loaded with timber barely twenty years old as well as spindly pulpwood. Raw logs sail to China, hardly a value-added proposition.

Douglas firs and the holy mother cedar are among the largest trees on the planet. Blessed by rainfall, they have found the optimal growing conditions. Why can’t a tree over five feet in diameter, around when Columbus sailed, be left in threatened Avatar Grove for future generations who don’t want to visit a tree museum? Imported tourists could be a far more lucrative and moral way to conserve our precious resources. Trees have become our ivory and chainsaws our poachers.

Sadly, most people never see this destruction unless they travel inland or fly over. The entire island is a poisonous patchwork quilt. My Holly Martin mysteries, And on the Surface Die and She Felt No Pain, rely heavily on setting and reveal the devastation a few metres beyond the narrowing margins. Is squandering a heritage a lesser crime than murder?

As century farms become condos, one giant housing development threatens, from Tofino to Port Hardy to Campbell River. Where the magical island once was self-sufficient, now it’s on life support. Stop the ferries for one week, and we all would subsist on blackberries, eggs, and apples. The island used to provide 95% of its food. Now ships arrive in flotillas from South America with tasteless grapes and unripe avocados, burning diesel to pollute the air.

The island has lost its vision, or perhaps a hundred years ago it didn’t need one. Groups such as The Land Conservancy and Dogwood Initiative are trying to stem the tide and marshal public opinion. Will this evil path be reversed in time or will Vancouver Island become another moonscape, paradise lost because of those who loved it to death?

Food for thought, pardon the pun. Thank you Lou!

Born in Toronto, Lou Allin grew up in Cleveland. She received a PhD in English Renaissance Literature and spent three decades in Northern Ontario as a professor of English. With a cottage on a frozen lake as her inspiration, she started her Belle Palmer series, featuring a realtor and her German shepherd, beginning with Northern Winters Are Murder. Lou has moved to Canada’s Caribbean, Vancouver Island, with Friday the mini-poodle and Zodie and Zia the border collies, overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Her island series stars RCMP corporal Holly Martin: And on the Surface Die, She Felt No Pain and the upcoming Twilight is Not Good for Maidens. Lou’s standalones are A Little Learning is a Murderous Thing (set in Michigan) and Man Corn Murders (Utah). That Dog Won’t Hunt is designed to appeal to reluctant adult readers. Watch for Contingency Plan in the same series.

Lou’s website is www.louallin.com and email louallin@shaw.ca, and she welcomes your correspondence.

You can also read my interview with Lou, released on 25th November.

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).

The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with crime novelist Wayne Zurl – the two hundred and third of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (my guests love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at Smashwords (Amazon to follow).

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2011 in ebooks, novels, tips, Twitter, writing

 

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Guest post: ‘Technique Is Part of a Poet’s Voice’ by poet Phillip A Ellis

Tonight’s guest blog post, an extra to the normal three a week schedule, on the topic of poetry techniques is brought to you by poet and interviewee no.55 Phillip A Ellis.

Technique Is Part of a Poet’s Voice

When you hear that every writer must, at some point, develop their own voice, you may be wondering what that means, and what it entails. There are a fair few elements to a writer’s voice, and to a poet’s voice, and I am going to talk about one of them: technique.

A poet’s technique is, at its simplest, the poet’s command of their poetry’s technical aspects. That is, all the nuts and bolts that work to make a poem a poem. Rhythm is one. The ways a metaphor is structured, but not what the metaphor says, is another. As is the degree to which the metaphor integrates with others.

A poem’s sense of musicality is another element of technique. The degree to which it aspires to the condition of music, partly through rhythm, partly through patterns of sound, is part of the element of technique.

In a sense technique is the technical elements of a poem, what can be learnt and practised, and what can more easily be mastered than can diction, or tone, or narrative distance. But knowing what is covered by technique is one aspect of the matter.

The techniques of poetry can vary from poet to poet, and from poem to poem. The best poets tend to vary their technique. So that their best poems tend to be ones where technique works in concord with the other elements. So that there is, as it were, a sense of harmony even when the poem is not harmonious.

For example, the technique used by T. S. Eliot in The Waste Land is in harmony with the sense that the poem consists of a mélange of disconnected voices. That there is chaos in the world, and that the world has lost its meaning and unity. Compare this poem with his Four Quartets and you can see shifts in the technique employed, so that the latter poems are, on the whole, more unified, helping to convey their religious worldview.

As a result, particularly when it comes time to revise your poetry, you need to develop and exercise your technique. Some poets I know argue that what a poem is saying is paramount, so that they tend to focus on that, rather than technique, and it shows in the sparsity of their voice, and a tendency towards a less-developed technicality. Others, such as myself, see the need for both elements such as voice and images, and the technical aspects to work more harmoniously. As a result, in my best poems, there is the illusion of a transparency that reveals, on analysis, a greater sense of the poem’s sense of technique.

I would like to quote some of my work, to reveal this, but I invite you to look elsewhere online. Searching for “Phillip A. Ellis” is easiest, since it is my preferred name, but you will see that I write rhyming verse, free verse, and formal unrhymed verse among others. Having this variety is part of my emphasis on technique, after all, since I want to excel in as many poetic forms as is possible.

Yet, given that technique is part of a poet’s voice, and given that it can be learnt from practice and example, it should be easy to realise that there are aspects of being a poet that make poetry a craft, something that can be learnt, as well as an art, something requiring a degree of talent. And if you can master enough technique to write passable verse, you have the start of a gift, a gift that can bring joy to friends and family.

So, if you’re thinking of becoming a poet, or becoming a better poet, look towards practising your technique. You can do so by reading poetry, and writing poetry, and it means you’ll become a better writer in the long run.

Wow. Thank you Phillip!

Phillip A. Ellis is a freelance critic and scholar, and his poetry collection, ‘The Flayed Man’, has been published by Gothic Press. Gothic Press will also edit a collection of essays on Ramsey Campbell, that he is editing with Gary William Crawford. He is working on another collection, to appear through Diminuendo Press. Another collection has been accepted by Hippocampus Press, which has also published his concordance to the poetry of Donald Wandrei. He is the editor of Australian Reader, Melaleuca and Breaking Light Poetry Magazine.

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with Pete Morin – the two hundred and second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at Smashwords.

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2011 in poetry, tips, writing

 

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Guest post: Writing science-fiction by Dal Burns

I’m delighted to bring you this guest blog post, today on the topic of writing science fiction by Dal Burns.

Alien Race is my first sci-fi piece to be published. It has a rather odd story attached to it. A friend and I were having a drink together and talking about writing in general. She decided on a bet; $100 that I couldn’t write a 20,000-word story in two weeks if she were to give me the final sentence. I thought about it. 20,000 words for $100? Seemed about right for a writer, so I agreed. She gave me the last sentence; “We were going home.”

The subject matter was mine to decide upon. I went home and started to think about the words, ‘We were going home’. I spent two days staring at a blank screen on my computer. Although the word ‘home’ is powerful in any story, how was I to build a new story on that one word?

When writing, I often use incidents from my own life. I have traveled a lot and spent many years on the road, gathering stories and adventures. This story could be dragged out of one of those adventures but that didn’t seem right. I needed to get away from my life entirely and look for something beyond my experience. That meant leaving Earth. As simply as that, I had decided to write a sci-fi story.

Rather than taking the story into space and leaving it there, I thought it would be interesting to link the Earth with the story in some fashion. This would give the reader a basis for getting involved. Glancing over at my bookshelf, I saw “Lucy, The Beginnings of Mankind.” There was my hook. I had to start in the distant past and move the story into the future and off the planet. So the story had to feature a person who was rooted in the past, while living in the distant future. Thus was created Ed Davidson. This was to be a man who looked for artifacts on Earth in a future time and who found something linking the past and the future. Simple; an alien artifact turns up at a dig site, some several million years old.

Now I had a plot developing. An artifact means aliens were on earth millions of years ago. This prompts the reader to wonder why and we have them interested. Nothing too technical or fancy needed. A good, simple story of a man curious to find out more about our past, by looking outward into space.

Now I needed the plot of the story. Davidson is an off-world archaeologist seeking the unattainable. Alien artifacts. He needs a rival. Someone who will get into Ed’s way, frequently.  That turns out to be Jag Danis (a deliberately ‘jagged’ sort of name), a mine boss who doesn’t want any alien artifacts getting in the way of his mining operations on distant worlds. Between them, they scour new worlds looking for wealth and evidence of alien life. Here we have the age-old conflict between two men who are competing with each other. One is seeking wealth and power, the other seeking knowledge. They will, of course, find themselves on a collision course as their desires clash. To introduce a bit more tension, Danis never plays fair. An old plot contrivance that works off-world as well as on.

Now that the main plot was organized, the sub-text of the story needed to be found. Aliens are endlessly fascinating to sci-fi reader, so they had to be included. As we are dealing with aliens who visited Earth millions of years previously and are more advanced, I thought it simple to give them the ability to move through time. In order to stay away from current thinking about the impossibility of time travel, I had them move their consciousness through time. Not something a physicist can easily dismiss. This may also give the reader pause for thought. Could humans have a conscious soul or a consciousness that transcends the boundaries of physical laws?

So now I had all the elements necessary. Looking at the story, it really boils down to several simple themes that could be in any story. Davidson is on the classic hero’s journey. Danis is the villain, trying to stop him. On one level they are fighting each other. On another level they represent the eternal struggle of humankind. Wealth versus knowledge. Greed versus virtue.  Finally, the aliens represent the force beyond both of them, attempting to guide the course of events, without becoming the ‘deus ex machina’ we need to avoid at all costs.

As with all good stories, I wanted a solid and satisfying resolution. Allowing Davidson to return to Earth in an attempt to complete his hero’s journey, despite Danis’ best efforts to thwart him, added to the conflict and tension of the story. As with many of my writings, what I want may not be what I get. I always allow the story to unfold in its own way and refuse to be my own ‘deus ex machina’. What actually happened in Alien Race was a bit of a surprise to me but seems to be satisfactory to the readers of my story.

If one wishes to be an Asimov, it will take rather a lot more work to complete a book or a novella than I am capable of delivering. Nonetheless, I find that the universal themes used in most books are also present in science-fiction, albeit with a healthy dose of science or pseudo-science mixed in to make the theme fit into the category of science-fiction. The combination is a compelling one. It allows the reader to become involved in the age-old stories of our cultures while imagining a universe filled with amazing and generally improbable technologies. To me, this is a great mix for a reader who wishes to escape mundane reality, while still understanding the culture, background and context of the story.

Thank you Dal!

Dal is a 4th-generation entertainer first put on stage at age eight, by his father. He has been involved in TV, movies, radio, recording studios, rock band, theatre etc. He has written for radio ads, theatre programs, screenplays and radio plays (he says they were fun!) theatre plays (2 of which were produced and quite successful). Dal wrote his first story at seventeen, after a mentor suggested he enter a writing competition. He said the suggestion was made because he was rather well known in his village (In the wilds of Northumberland) as the local storyteller. After that he didn’t write again until in his thirties, when working with a theatre company.

Dal has written four books and is working on a fifth, which is an illustrated children’s book, with co-author Kari Wishingrad and illustrators Sona & Jacob. That book will be released this year with the title “The Neighbor’s Cat”. He is also working on three new books; another children’s illustrated book, a YA story about an alternate universe and a YA story about two horses. Although Dal has never visited an alternate universe, he thinks he owns Bella, a Peruvian Paso mare. Bella knows better. Dal’s websites include http://dalburnswrites.com and http://dramaworksinc.com. He can also be found on Twitter (http://twitter.com/dalburns) and Facebook (as Dal Burns).

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).

The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with Ann Pietrangelo – the two hundred and first of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too) and / or email me. You can also read / download my eBooks at Smashwords.

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2011 in ebooks, tips, writing

 

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