Saturday, 24 March 2012

Green Books: Greening the Publishing Industry

Welcome to the third post in my series about Green Books!

In my last post about Green Books, I looked at how individuals can share books and so cut down on the carbon footprint of their reading habits. In this post, I'll briefly look at what the publishing industry is doing.

Books are made of paper which is made from trees. More than 30 million trees are cut down every year to make books in the USA. Currently under 10% of the paper used in the US book publishing industry comes from recycled sources*. These statistics are quite sobering when you consider them!

Eco-Libris is an online campaign aiming to reduce the carbon footprint of reading. You can read a lot about the publishing industry's attempts to become greener on their website here. The Eco-Libris blog is full of useful information about taking a greener approach to printing and publishing.

The great thing about Eco-Libris is that they work on so many different levels. They collaborate with book clubs, book shops, publishers and authors, encourage people and companies to plant trees and educate readers about the carbon footprint of their books.

Some individual publishers take a sustainable approach to the environment. Two Ravens Press for example, operating in the Scottish islands, focuses on publishing contemporary books about nature and the environment and has a robust environmental policy (though it only seems to merit a small paragraph towards the bottom of this page of their website).

As well as getting involved with EcoLibris, if you review books on your blog, you can develop a habit of mentioning the environmental criteria of the books you review (I have to admit, this is something I always intend to do, but as yet, don't regularly do!).

If you have a publisher then discuss environmental issues with them! They may not be able to do much, but at least you've raised their awareness of the issues. If you're self publishing look for a local print company and ask them about their environmental policies. More and more printing companies have environmental policies these days. A local print company that doesn't have a robust environmental policy will at least enable you to reduce the carbon footprint involved in distribution of your book.

In my next post, I'll look at the burning question – E-readers vs Paper Books – how do they compare in terms of environmental impact?

Crafty Green Poet

* statistics from Eco-Libris.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Kimberly Menozzi: If You Love It, Write It

How many times do we, as writers, get an idea and discard it because we don't think anyone else will love it as much as we do? I'm sure it happens more often than we'd care to admit. As writers, we want to believe that we're devoted to the ideas which come to us, that we'll fight for our right to tell any story, any time. However, I suspect there are many stories which don't see the light of day thanks to a fear that they might not be able to find an audience, or that we won't be able to do the story justice.

I know I have set aside more than one novel in progress because I lost the passion for the story. I've stopped writing stories because they suddenly didn't feel right, or because I felt no-one would be interested by the time I finished it.

And then, there was one I didn't even begin because I feared it would be a waste of time in spite of my excitement for it. All the same, it wouldn't leave me alone, and kept knocking at the door of my imagination, insistent to the point of seeming nearly frantic for my attention.

But I kept shoving it away, kept silencing the characters whose voices were growing clearer and louder with every passing day.

One reason I was refusing to listen was because I was polishing a manuscript already and didn't want to lose focus on it. I had a start-up publisher making eyes in my direction, hinting at their interest in that novel. Since the people involved were online friends of mine, I wanted it to be ready as soon as possible if they decided to take it on.

In short, I had no time for dealing with another work-in-progress, much less one which would likely end up abandoned in my own personal slush pile.

In July of 2009, I met in person one of those online friends interested in my novel. I was visiting relatives in my hometown in Kentucky, and had arranged for a lunchtime get-together with Jason Horger and his wife, Angela. We met at a Mexican restaurant and chatted for a while over our meal, discussing a number of things, which included the novel they were interested in (Ask Me if I'm Happy) and various anecdotes about Italy and our lives in general.

Soon enough we started talking about the story ideas we were bouncing around, and I mentioned the idea refusing to leave me alone. It didn't hurt that I'd come to our meeting immediately after watching the live coverage of the Tour de France on television, and my inspiration stemmed from that.

I told Jason I couldn't shake this idea and mentioned some of the aspects of the story I found so interesting and which I wanted to explore further. I expressed my frustration at not wanting to write it, and he looked rather puzzled to hear this.

"Why don't you want to write it?"

"I'm not sure there'd be an audience for it." I laughed and shook my head. "I mean, there's not exactly the biggest demand for stories about bike racing, is there?"

"But do you want to read stories about that?"

"If I could find them, sure."

I think that was what some people refer to as the "light bulb moment", because I almost literally felt one go on over my head when I answered that question. Still, it was his follow-up statement which sold me on the idea at last:

"If you love it, write it," he said. "What have you got to lose?"

After lunch, we said our goodbyes and parted ways, planning to meet again when my husband arrived from Italy in a few weeks. I had a long drive back to Tennessee to ponder everything we'd discussed, and that idea I'd been denying for so long finally took root.

I started writing it that night – just a few sketchy scenes, just a few vague ideas on the page – but the story started taking shape at last. Whenever I found my confidence in the salability of the story shaken, I just focused on the memory of that afternoon in the Mexican restaurant, and what Jason, soon to be my trusted editor, had said.

"If you love it, write it."

I no longer worry about finding new ideas for stories, or whether people will want to read them. If I want to read them, I know others will, too.

Because I love them.


Kimberly Menozzi has her own website and can be contacted via Facebook and Twitter too.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

In conversation with... Scarlett Bailey

Hello Scarlett! First of all, congratulations on the release of The Night Before Christmas. Can you please tell us what it is about?

A: Hello! Thanks very much, The Night Before Christmas is about Lydia, who heads off to The Lake District with her boyfriend and soon to be fiancé, hoping to share the perfect Christmas with her group of friends. But things take an unexpected turn when she finds out that her boyfriend is planning to propose to her, a blast from the past turns up to rock her world and she meets a mysterious and very attractive stranger.

Did you have the plot entirely figured out when you started writing or did it take unexpected turns as the characters grew on the page?

A: I did have the plot planned out, which I think is a good idea if you don’t want to get lost along the way – there are a lot of words in a novel, and I think its probably easy to take the wrong path. Having said that, a good deal of the plot and the characters evolved during the writing spontaneously and I think they are the best bits!

The Night Before Christmas is your debut novel. How did your book deal come about and how did you feel to finally see it in print?

A: I was lucky enough to have a great agent in place, and the right idea at the right time. I had a Christmas book idea, and my publisher Ebury were looking for a Christmas book – we were on the same page in terms of plot and feel, and so we agreed on a one book deal. I have since agreed on a second one book deal, so there will be a new book out in October. Seeing it in print was incredibly exciting, not just because of the really beautiful cover, but when you see the words you’ve written properly printed like that, it's just wow – I wrote that!

The cover of the book is simply gorgeous! How much input – if any – did you have in its creation? If allowed, would you have changed anything about it?

A: It is LOVELY, isn’t it? I had no input at all, but as soon as I set eyes on it I adored it and I wouldn’t change a thing.

If you are already working on your next writing project, would you mind giving us a little anticipation of what we are to expect?

A: I am nearly the end of my second novel, which is called ‘Married by Christmas’ and it's about Anna Carter, who two weeks before her dream Christmas wedding discovers that her fiancé Tom is hiding a massive secret, one that could ruin everything. It’s a fun old romp and I’ve got to take my character to New York, which has been brilliant.

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, it seems that interacting with readers – be it via a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a blog etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?

A: I just love it, I love being able to talk to people who’ve read my book, and to other writers who have all been completely lovely to me. In fact I wanted to say thank you to all for the great support I had before Christmas and so I wrote a free Christmas story in the form of an advent calendar for everyone who cheered me on. It was called ‘Santa, Maybe’ and it was a lot of fun to do, but did give me an extra twenty-five thousand words to write in Decemeber! I don’t think it disrupts my writing, unless I let it.

What one fundamental piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A: Write as much as you can and read as much as you can. Writing is like playing the piano, the more you practice the better you get.

And lastly, is there anything that you would like to share that I haven’t asked?

A: I don’t think so… only that I am still trying to find out what the current most popular cocktail in New York is, so if anyone knows drop me a line on twitter!

Thank you for your time!

To win a copy of The Night Before Christmas, please fill out this form. The competition will end on the 2nd April.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Erinna Mettler: tales from Brighton

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Erinna Mettler, author of Starlings, who has kindly agreed to delight the readers of Book After Book with tales from the unique city of Brighton (and Hove!)...

The Starling Stag Do

There are a few weeks left to catch one of Brighton’s most spectacular performances and the good thing is you don’t even have to buy a ticket. If you head down to Brighton Pier on any evening in winter you will see the beautiful ballet of our visiting starlings. The birds come down here from their breeding grounds in Scandinavia to sit out the winter in our relatively warmer climate. It’s like they’re on an extended stag weekend, taking a few months out on the town to eye up the talent, binge on the local produce and go dancing.

Every evening as day turns into dusk the birds congregate around the piers in huge groups much like those men and women with L-plates and fairy wings who throng the city’s streets. As the birds collect they begin to swirl across the skies in massive lava lamp shapes. The RSPB website says that essentially they’re eyeing each other up, looking at the birds nearest to them to see which ones are the fat, shiny, healthy-looking ones, so they can follow them to their feeding grounds the next day. They keep a beady eye on the nearest seven or so and change direction to take a look at different birds. That’s how the undulating happens. I love the fact that the course of one little bird can change the movement of the whole flock. The dominant birds roost further under the pier away from the wind and the sea-spray and everyone else wants to be near them, there are squabbles and peckings and a lot of screeching before they settle down for the night, the avian equivalent of DeNiro’s ‘you talkin’ to me?’ The more I find out about these birds the more they remind me of stags and hens. The expert from the RSPB says they are remarkably agile during the evening ballet but not so much in the morning hangover, when they are quite likely to bump into each other and plummet to the ground. Walk around the lanes on a Sunday morning and you’ll see much the same behaviour as the hungover emerge from their hotel rooms in search of a fry up.

I first saw the starlings in Brighton in the early 90s, when the West Pier was only half gone, sloping to one side like it was melting in the sun. There were millions of birds then, still able to roost in the pier’s ruins, they swarmed the skies like giant bees swaying this way and that as the sun set. You never forget your first time.

The colonisation of the West Pier didn’t last long. The birds sought out new shelter when they natural woodland habitat was destroyed by the middle of the last century. What better place than the old pier, away from humans and furnished with a million hiding places? But the starling population has dropped dramatically in the last 50 years, down by as much as 70 per cent (according to the RSPB) and in Brighton and Hove, whereas upwards of a million birds used to descend on us, now it’s only about 20,000. When the West Pier burned down they shifted along the coast to Brighton Pier and you can still watch them here throughout the winter months. Of course if they keep dwindling at the same rate you might not be able to for much longer. It’s this fleetingness that appeals to me, the idea that it’s a privilege to watch a natural occurrence that I have no control over, and might not be able to see next year, or the year after.

I asked friends for their thoughts on watching the starlings. Most people said they’d stumbled on the sight by accident, walking along the seafront at dusk, at first unaware of what they were witnessing then stopping in awe wasting an hour or so just watching. I play a game with my boys in which we shout out what the shapes look like as they change, it’s a bit like cloud watching but high octane – try it, it’s fun. One friend said she went to see the birds on her birthday and half expected them to spell out Happy Birthday for her. Someone else said they’d seen a lone starling pecking viciously at Kentucky Fried Chicken on the street – now that particular bird must have been on a stag do.

For more information on starlings visit http://www.rspb/org/uk and listen to The Ghost Roost BBC Radio 4

Friday, 9 March 2012

An evening with Sarah Rayner

If the one of the major booksellers on the high street and online wants to be the exclusive seller of your latest book for one whole month, it’s safe to say that you’ve made it.

When that bookseller is Waterstones and the writer in question is Sarah Rayner, author of the much-loved One Moment, One Morning and the most recent The Two Week Wait, I can’t but agree. If this whole scenario includes cupcakes, cocktails served in teacups and brilliant conversation, I’m totally sold!
On the 2nd of February I was among the lucky members of the audience gathered at the Brighton branch of Waterstones to enjoy a literary evening in the company of Alexandra Heminsley and the much acclaimed Sarah Rayner. The two authors, both based in Brighton, delighted all people present with smart questions and interesting answers respectively. The exchange was a pleasure to witness and I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one to leave the bookshop feeling an even closer connection to these amazing novels.
If - for some unfortunate reason - you haven’t read either, don’t worry: they’re now both available nationwide from all major outlets!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Book review: Bereft

By Chris Womersley
Published by

Bereft is the second novel by Australian journalist and literary reviewer Chris Womersley. As the author explained in an exclusive piece written for Book After Book, inspiration for him is “a series of small insights that coalesce over several months – sometimes years – into a bunch of characters living in a particular time and place, each of them with their own set of problems”.

In Bereft, the sense of time and place is particularly clear. The year is 1919, the Great War has ended and the Spanish flu epidemic is raging across Australia as Quinn Walker returns to his hometown of Flint, in New South Wales. His return from war, however, is not anticipated with joy and elation. In fact, nobody is waiting for him.

Apart from the fact that he is believed to have died at the front, Quinn hasn’t set foot in Flint since he was accused of the murder of his younger sister ten years earlier. In town he is known as “the murderer” and even his own father has vowed to kill him should he ever meet him again.

So why does Quinn return to Flint? Is it about vengeance? Atonement? Both?

Bereft is not a crime story. Yes, a crime was committed but more important than finding the perpetrator, here, are the consequences of that crime. The ripples in the water, so to speak. Quinn’s grief, sense of guilt and loneliness take centre stage. A loneliness that is somehow dispersed by the presence of Sadie Fox, a young and mysterious girl whom he meets while hiding in the hills.

Who is Sadie Fox? An orphan who is trying to evade the unwanted attentions of Robert Dalton, local constable as well as Quinn’s despised uncle? The ghost of Quinn’s dead sister or someone channelling her? Does this odd guardian angel even exist? Womersley lets readers use their imagination to fill the gaps.

The novel abounds in emotions yet the narrative – despite having every right to be – is not overly dramatic. It is dark, brooding, subdued. Throughout the book I felt like there was a constant tension building and ready to erupt into violent passions but this sense of foreboding never quite materialised. This, together with a wonderfully poetic way with words, is what makes Bereft so powerful.

Until the 15th March, you have a chance to win a copy of this book by completing this form. If I were you, I wouldn’t wait one minute too long.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Lynn Shepherd on... Judging a book by its cover

It’s been a week since Tom-All-Alone’s was published and I’ve just started what will be quite a few months of library talks and signings and book festivals. I did the same thing in 2010, when Murder at Mansfield Park came out, and I love doing it – it’s a delight to talk to readers, and there’s always at least one question that takes you completely by surprise (this week it was ‘What typeface is your book printed in?’). Likewise there’s one particular question I almost always get asked in one form or another, and that’s the one about the cover design.

People are fascinated about the process of choosing a jacket, and how much influence an author has in the look of their book. The first thing to say at this point is that unless you’re a very famous – and therefore a very powerful – writer you get very little actual say in your covers. The standard publishing contract requires your publisher to consult with you about the proposed design, but there’s nothing to compel them to take your thoughts into account. Clearly they won’t want to put out your book with a jacket you loathe if they can possibly help it, but at the end of the day it’s down to them. And if you think about it that’s exactly how it should be. Your publisher knows the book-buying market, and they’re the ones who can position the look of the book to appeal to the maximum number of readers. This is especially important for overseas countries (in my case places like the US or Australia), because those are markets you won’t know, where you’ll rely even more on the judgment of your publishers.

The covers for my first book, Murder at Mansfield Park, are an interesting case in point.

This is the original UK paperback, which is based on a 19th century painting. Visually this is basically a combination of a ‘Penguin classics’ sort of look, with a rather shocking splash of blood across the top. A cover that does exactly what the book does, in other words, and leads you to expect a story that brings together the grim reality of murder, and the genteel Regency world of Miss Jane Austen.

Here’s the North American version, which cleverly picks up some of the design elements of the UK one (the house, the man and the dog) but sets them in a darker, almost theatrical setting. Very American Gothic.

This is the Australian one. Completely different in feel, and decidedly tongue-in-cheek. Makes you think the book inside will be both playful and funny (which I hope it is). That strapline – ‘Someone’s been messing with Fanny’ – had me laughing out loud when I first saw it.

The Spanish translation is different again. These designs were specially commissioned for the book and it’s intriguing that this is the first and only cover to give us a close-up human face. And what a face! The look combines a period feel with a very modern and witty archness.

And finally the recently-issued UK e-book. This is the first to use a photographic landscape, and there’s a definite sense of foreboding in the brooding sky, the crows, and the decaying splendour of the overgrown gate.

So far I have two different designs for the new book – published as Tom-All-Alone’s in the UK, and The Solitary House in the US. And the jackets are every bit as different as the titles.

I confess at once that I utterly adore the UK design. Tom-All-Alone’s is the name of the rat-infested graveyard in Bleak House, which I took as the inspiration for my own Victorian murder mystery, and I suppose I always thought the graveyard would appear on the cover in some way. The genius of this particular design is that it deliberately isn’t trying to ‘look like Dickens’, any more than I have tried to write like him. The abstract design of the gates is clearly modern while evoking the atmosphere of Victorian London. So while it echoes Dickens’ time, there’s no way any book by Dickens would ever have a cover like this – either then or now. And the black and white and silver colour scheme makes a huge visual impact.

The US cover is much softer, and in some ways more enigmatic. There’s more of a story implied in the half-open gate and misty low light, and the pack of handwritten letters that are ‘bound about’ the book. It’s quite different in feel from the UK design, but very beautiful and just as eye-catching, and I love it just as much.

So the question is, which one do you prefer?

Tom-All-Alone’s is published by Corsair, and The Solitary House will be issued in May in North America by Random House. Her website is, which includes a short video about the book. You can follow her on Twitter @Lynn_Shepherd

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

In conversation with... Erinna Mettler

Hello Erinna! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of your first novel Starlings. Can you tell us what it is about?

A: Thank you Silvia. Starlings is a set of 18 episodes taking place in Brighton. At first they appear to be unconnected but as you read it becomes clear they are very much linked together. The stories span decades and familial generations and cover quite a few of Brighton’s cultural and historical events, World War 2, the mod/rocker riots and the burning of the pier to name a few. It’s about life in a city and how every incident and every individual is related to everything else.

Some of your short stories were included in anthologies but this is your first published work of fiction. How does it feel to be a published author? What kind of journey led you to publication?

A: It’s amazing seeing your book on the shelves in a bookshop next to novels written by ‘real’ authors. Starlings is in the local books section in Brighton Waterstones next to all these amazing writers I really admire, it’s such an honour to be there. The first time someone wants to publish something you have written is such a confidence boost but for a publisher to actually want to publish a whole book is almost too unbelievable. I kept thinking it was all a joke and they were going to change their minds right up until publication day.

I didn’t write anything creative from the time I left school until my late thirties. I’d just had my second child, and I was approaching a landmark birthday, and I knew I had to do something for me or I would go insane, so I enrolled on a creative writing course at Sussex University. It was purely on a whim having seen the brochure in a doctor’s waiting room. A few weeks later I was in a room full of strangers reading 1,000 words of prose, I was so nervous the paper was shaking as I read. Luckily most people seemed to like it, and they were a great bunch, I still see some of them to share work in progress. The course was two years and most of Starlings was written while I was there.

I caught the bug. I wrote everyday when the kids had gone to bed, stopped watching TV, worked at weekends when my husband was home to look after the children and generally became possessed by it. After 9 months I had a novel so I sent it out to about 20 agents and publishers. I got a lot of rejections but I also got a lot of encouragement, even from publishers who said it wasn’t right for them. Two publishers were very interested. I saw a call for submissions from Revenge Ink in Latest Homes Magazine. I sent them a sample and they asked for the manuscript. They got what I was trying to do straight away, made a few editorial suggestions and took it on. The whole process took two years from my first rejection letter to the book hitting the shelves – which is very quick I think.

It’s a myth that you absolutely have to have an agent to get published – there are a lot of independent publishers accepting speculative submissions, you’re not going to have a lot of marketing weight behind you but you will be published. The independents seem gutsier to me anyway, more willing to take on work that isn’t a sure thing but has something different to offer. Almost all the rejections I got from agents couldn’t fit the book into a category. Of course some of them just didn’t like it and I’m still waiting to hear from a few…

Brighton is as much a main character as all the lives you show us glimpses of. How has the city inspired you? If landmarks were changed, do you think that you could have set your novel in any other city and obtained the same result?

A: No. Not this story. This story is about Brighton and nowhere else. It comes from observing how life happens here. It has a particular rhythm, maybe it’s to do with the sea. Sometimes I think the sea is so important to Brighton it feels like half of the town is hidden under the waves like we’re in the half of Atlantis that survived the flood.

The book is very much about a city. Only in a city do you get the combination of interaction and distance between individuals. I could have written a set of stories about London or Wakefield (which are the only other cities I’ve lived in for any amount of time) used the landmarks and myths of those places, but Brighton has a unique feel to it, the architecture, the sea and the people. It has separate ‘villages’ all with very different feelings but at the same time everything is a part of the whole. It feels like a big city and a small town all at once. I never go into the centre without bumping into at least one person I know, sometimes several, and then it has its characters – the quirky individuals everyone recognises, the bird lady, the man with the stripy socks, the zombie man. London would have been too big, you can go for months without seeing the same person twice and I wanted to show connection - even if it’s only obscure connection. There is also a wealth of beauty to describe here, particularly The West Pier. It’s typical that one of the defining tourist attractions in the city is a burnt out wreck but it looks amazing in most weathers. Of course Brighton has its seedy, dirty side so that has great appeal for any author. It also has more than its fair share of urban myths, and people talk to each other a lot here so you get to hear a lot of stories. If you want to know about Brighton I recommend you get on a bus and listen. It’s a great way to pick up stories.

You studied Film at the University of Kent and worked in London as a research and information officer at the British Film Institute. Did these experiences influence the way you wrote Starlings? A daisy-chain novel like yours would translate very well into film.

A: Wouldn’t that be fantastic! The film rights are up for grabs! I’m not a film maker but I like to describe things as if I were seeing them on the screen. I’m as influenced by movies I’ve seen as I am by books I’ve read. I was recently asked at a dinner party which sense is the most important to me and I think it has to be sight. You can tell someone so much by describing a scene in detail, the surroundings, the actions, even the way the sky looks. I will often sit with a notebook and just write down what I see. It sounds obvious but I will see something completely differently to the way someone else sees it, we all pick out different things to notice. My background has taught me to keep a lookout for everything that might be of some significance, the smallest thing can be an expression of intent in a film. I think this is the same of literature, the way a flower looks in chapter one can be greatly significant to the outcome of the novel. Some people don’t like the descriptive style, they want to get on with the plot, but I think it’s important to know as much as possible about the things you are reading about in order to experience them fully.

A lot of people have said that Starlings would make a great film but I’m not sure, it has no linear narrative, it flits around between characters and decades and it certainly doesn’t have a coherent plot to speak of. It certainly wouldn’t be mainstream. I think it’s the visual style that makes people think that. I’m flattered that they do and I’d like to see someone try – there’s a challenge for you.

Starlings is a beautiful title: so simple and so evocative. Did you deliberately choose not to have a photograph of starlings – famous for their evening “dance” around Brighton’s West Pier – as the cover of your book?

A: Basically we are the starlings. They are an amazing sight dancing around our skies, we’re very lucky to have them. I was trying to show that the characters are individuals but that everything they do affects everybody else, much as one starling can alter the movement of the whole flock, change its direction with one beat of a wing. Hopefully the individual chapters are like starlings too because they change the way you think about characters and events in previous ones, that was the intention anyway.

Most writers will tell you that they have absolutely no say in the cover art and this is true in my case. My publisher, Amita, just emailed it to me one day – here’s your cover, hope you like it. I do. I like it very much. But at first I was unsure. I thought it was too bleak, not Brighton enough, but she was so right. It really stands out in bookshops and although the book is set in Brighton the human interaction in it is universal, you don’t have to know Brighton to get it. The expanse of blank sky above the houses sums up the voyeuristic feeling I was trying to get across in the novel and of course it’s a bird’s eye view. Incidentally, even though my publisher has never seen my house the cover photograph could be of my roof, I was a bit taken aback when I saw it.

If you are already working on your next writing project, would you mind giving us a little anticipation of what we are to expect?

A: It’s called Pamela’s Dream and it’s a novel. I’ve written about 25,000 words so far. It’s about a woman who experiences something dreadful and as a result wills herself not to dream so as not to relive it. Then, on the day she allows herself to dream again, she is given a prophecy and the week that follows makes her think about what is important in life. I’ve written the beginning and then end – it has a very open end. I want readers to decide what has happened for themselves rather than have me tell them. I’ve got quite a bit of research to do – I need to visit a palm reader and find out all about palmistry and I’ve being doing a lot of work around dreams. I’m enjoying writing Pamela because she’s not the nicest person in the world, she has a lot of flaws and hopefully this will make her real, even if her story is fantastical. There’s a long way to go and I keep getting distracted writing short stories, which is a more comfortable genre for me. Plotting a whole novel is hard, Starlings has a complicated structure but it was written in chapter-sized chunks. I also know what the project after this one is so I’ve got about 5 years tied up.

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, it seems that interacting with readers – be it via a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a blog etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?

A: I find it very difficult. I have a website and I use Twitter and Facebook and I’m working on setting up a blog now. I don’t want to keep bugging people but really it is the only means I have to publicise my novel. I value feedback too. I don’t think people tell you what they think enough even with all the access to immediate communication. I really like hearing people’s opinions. I’ve talked about Starlings at a lot of Book Groups and it’s always a great evening, there’s always something new that I hadn’t thought about before. I got an actual letter the other day – two pages handwritten – that was wonderful. I do spend time on the web but I think it pays off, it gets the attention of people who wouldn’t normally come across your work and it also means I can interact with other authors which is always a good thing. I have to be disciplined though, I have to make sure I write my 2,000 words a day no matter what, and not get too bound up in discussions on BBC scheduling or whether or not Pippa Middleton deserves such a massive advance (not, by the way!)

What one fundamental piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A: You need to be able to judge what good writing is. Join a writing group to find out what works and what doesn’t – feedback is essential. Often you will know what the strengths and weaknesses of your writing are but will push them to the back of your mind, in a good writing group people will point them out to you and you will get to read what other people are doing. If what you have written is any good someone will publish it and you will know deep down if it is any good. Don’t give up because people say no. Someone will eventually say yes.
Lastly, would you like to explain us what Rattle Tales is and how you are involved in it?

A: Rattle Tales emerged from the MA in Creative Writing at Sussex University. Like many MAs it was workshop based, write a piece, read it to the group and invite discussion. When it had finished we all wanted to carry on doing that so we met up once a month at each other’s houses to discuss work over wine and unusual crisps. We also went to spoken word events in Brighton and one night we thought - why don’t we just stage our own? We wanted to keep the writing group format so decided to involve the audience by asking for discussion after each reading. The audience are given football rattles to shake when they want to ask a question or make a point – just to make the event a bit more lively and a bit less classroom. There are duck calls too, but these keep going missing so I’m not sure how long they will feature! There are about ten of us in the group and it’s a truly co-operative affair, everyone has an equal say. The first night was incredible, we staged it at the Marlborough Theatre in Brighton, which is a fantastic little venue, and it was a great success. It’s now a quarterly event and we ask for submissions from any writers willing to read their work and take questions. All the events so far have been sold out and it’s grown too big for the Marlborough, people had to sit on the floor at the last one. The stories we choose are usually a bit out there, so there’s a lot to discuss. If anyone wants to submit they should look at our website

Thank you for your time!

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Monday, 5 March 2012

Book review: Carnival for the Dead

By David Hewson
Published by Macmillan

Having recently returned from a weekend in Venice, I couldn’t help but being drawn to David Hewson’s latest book, Carnival for the Dead – A Venetian Mystery.

My choice was purely based on the fact that I liked the cover as – to my utter shame – I must confess that I had never heard of this author before. Nor of his bestselling crime books featuring detective Nic Costa, which are now in development for a series of TV movies set in Rome.

I was lucky: firstly because this is a standalone book with only vague references to the Costa series and secondly because this is probably going to be Hewson’s last Italian novel, as he has now been asked to produce two works of fiction based on the famous TV show The Killing, set in Copenhagen.

Back to the book… Teresa Lupo, a forensic pathologist from Rome, travels to Venice to look for her aunt Sofia, who seems to have vanished in thin air. Not finding any clues as to her whereabouts, she turns for help to the retired pathologist Alberto Tosi and to the people who might be able to shed some light on what has happened to her aunt, including the two other inhabitants of the old Venetian palazzo.

While nobody is able to help her, she starts receiving short stories by an anonymous person. And here is where it all starts to get creepy! The mysterious author of these fictional pieces – in which both Sofia and Teresa appear – seems to know details of their lives that only someone close to either of them would know.

Are they cries for help sent by Sofia to lead her niece to her? Or perhaps they are being sent by someone who wants to help her find her aunt? Either way, why can’t this person simply come forward and give clear instructions? Teresa needs to solve these cryptic puzzles and – assuming that her aunt is indeed in trouble – she needs to be quick.

Quick is also the pace at which I found myself turning the pages of this gripping mystery! The presence of the short stories within the novel is a treat and I was so engrossed in finding clues that, while I was reading them, I stopped being the reader of Carnival for the Dead and somehow became Teresa Lupo. At one point or another, I was also suspicious of pretty much every single character – main or minor.

A good mystery is one that keeps you wondering right until the end and David Hewson manages to do just that. In a Venice in the middle of the Carnival celebrations – cold, seething with people wearing masks and so beautifully and authentically described that I’m going on a Carnival-for-the-Dead-inspired pilgrimage in a few weeks – nothing is what is seems. And no-one is who you think they are.