Monday, 16 December 2013

A Dedication

One of the nice things about writing a book is that you get to dedicate it to someone special or significant in your life. I have a story about the dedication in my latest novel, BUSTED OUT, my first novel set in Canada. The novel is about teens trying to find their way through personal and family conflict. It's also a tragic story that touches on abuse - physical abuse, alcoholism and gambling addiction. In a way, the story really underlines the courage and resilience of these kids, and their ability to survive.

But sometimes the obstacles can be just too overwhelming, and some kids don't survive. That's why I dedicated the book to four young people I worked with many years ago who didn't make it. They were trying to turn their lives around by going to school to get their Grade 12, but they all met tragic ends. Mike C was an energetic, handsome young guy and a great leader. He was a guide up north during the summer for hunters and fishing trips. He was fatally stabbed during one of those summers. Paul P was a gentle, kind young gay man with a love of the outdoors and his family. He was found hanging in his apartment, under mysterious circumstances. Mike S was an enthusiastic, happy go lucky kid who died accidentally as a result of a fall down the basement stairs. Clarence G was a quiet, thoughtful and intelligent young man who died from hypothermia when he walked home alone from a party.
These four deaths happened in the space of about three years.
These four young men had promising lives ahead of them.
I hope in some small way the book keeps their memory alive.

Katie, one of the characters in the book says:
 We all think life’s like a race – run fast and keep your eyes fixed on what’s ahead – cause you gotta win – at any cost. And that’s the problem – we’re afraid to stop and look at each other - afraid to talk – to truly know
There are many kids out there who feel like nobody's listening. Let's take the time to stop and talk. It could save someone's life.






BUSTED OUT is available on Amazon Kindle and in Paperback. Check it out here

****THE PITMAN'S DAUGHTER UPDATE*** Last week THE PITMAN'S DAUGHTER climbed to #6 in the Amazon UK Literary Fiction Bestseller list. An amazing experience! And it's still hanging in there at #10 last time I checked!

Thursday, 5 December 2013

NEW YA NOVEL OUT!

I'm so happy to give you a sneak preview of my new YA novel BUSTED OUT. It's available on Amazon Kindle today and the paperback will follow soon. Here's the blurb:

On her morning run, seventeen year old Katie discovers a frozen body lying on the snowy forest trail.  The story goes back three months to trace the events leading up to the tragedy.  Who is the victim?
 Is it Mike, the import car fanatic who worships his older brother, Frankie, a hotshot graduate who’s gone East and developed big spending habits fuelled by poker winnings?
Is it Jay - the budding musician whose father wants him to be an NHL player even though he hates hockey?
Is it Kim, the math whiz and talented artist whose mother recently died and left her alone with a cold and abusive father?
Is it Nick?  Forced to be a parent to his two young sisters while his single mom goes off for days at a time and drowns herself in booze .
Gambling changes their lives until events spiral out of control and in the final showdown one of them will find love, one will be a hero, one will be the victim of a near-fatal accident and someone will die on the snowy forest track.  
Set in a Canadian prairie city, this story explores the complexity of family conflict and its impact on teens who are searching for love, acceptance and identity.

This novel is important to me because it's the first one I've set in Canada.  There's an interesting history to it. 
A few years back I came up with the outline of the story and it was used to write a screenplay for a student movie directed by a fantastic film maker, James McLellan who runs the Oak Park High School Film Program. With a bunch of his talented students they made a feature film called All In. Check out this trailer from their most recent film, Shuttlecock.

P.S If you've seen the movie, All In don't think you know the story! The novel has many different twists, so you'll just have to read the book!!
Click here for BUSTED OUT.


Friday, 22 November 2013

A Humbling Experience!



I had to change my blog background today from a blue, rainy effect to something bright and cheerful. Partly because of the cold, snowy weather we're experiencing here but also because I'm so delighted that THE PITMAN'S DAUGHTER has just cracked the Top 20 bestseller list in three categories in the UK store. It's #16 in Kindle Literary Fiction and #21 in Women's Literary Fiction.
When you realize that people are actually responding positively to a book that took many years to reach a point where it was really ready to be launched, it's a very humbling experience. Especially since this book has such personal relevance to me.
My mother was a pitman's daughter, my sister and I were too though my Dad was only a miner for a few years before he became a dairy engineer. All my uncles on my mother's side were pitmen which makes my many female cousins pitmen's daughters as well.
I always knew this story should be told and even though I put it aside many times and went on with other projects I knew there was something special about this one.
I believed that many people would love to share it with me. And I guess I was right!
Today it overtook The Great Gatsby (my all-time favourite book) on the Amazon UK Kindle  Literary Fiction bestsellers list, which gave me a brief panic attack. I recovered quickly and savoured the moment!
Check it out on Amazon UK: The lists change hour by hour but hopefully it might reach the Top 10!


Saturday, 16 November 2013

Cracking the bestseller lists!



It's official - I'm in the company of my idols! My novel THE PITMAN'S DAUGHTER has reached a couple of Amazon bestseller lists. The first one is the British and Irish literary fiction where it's at #30 just above Malcolm Lowry and just below the likes of Penelope Lively and Ian McEwan, two of my favourite writers - oh and 10 places behind David Copperfield!!! It's a weird thing this digital marketplace!
It's also hanging in at #99 in the British Literary Historical Fiction in the solid company of C.S Forester, Agatha Christie and Ken Follett! Nice company to keep!
You can check the lists out on Amazon here and here

And if you're still thinking about buying a Kindle or paperback version you could just keep me from slipping out of that precious top 100! Just a thought!

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Great new Kindle Promo

Just a quick newsflash to everyone. THE PiTMAN'S DAUGHTER will be featured on Kindle Countdown Deals starting on Friday 15th November at 8:00 a.m. Check out my product page for details. It's a great deal and a chance to get your copy of the book for a low, low price!

Friday, 8 November 2013

Gorgeous Places

People often ask how I get ideas for stories. I addressed this in an earlier blog but I'd like to focus on one really important source of inspiration: gorgeous places. Take a look at this picture:
This is Kirkby Lonsdale in Cumbria. With its quaint streets, winding river, pale stone buildings, market place and wide selection of local shops it's one of the loveliest places I've visited. Every year there's a Victorian Fair held in September when the whole town is transformed and everyone steps back over a hundred years in time. 
You'll notice one of the streets is called Salt Pie Lane. The story goes that there was a bakery there and the enterprising baker had an arrangement with the landlord of the nearby pub. The baker put a lot of extra salt in the mutton pies so after eating them, customers would need to drink a great deal of beer to quench their thirst!
Here's a picture of the Market Square and the traditional Morris Dancers.

I've visited the town several times now and was inspired to start a new book I've entitled A Proper Lady. It's the story of young farm girl, Bonita Salt, who lives in Kirkby Lonsdale during the late 1890's. When she loses her parents she's taken under the wing of the mysterious and charismatic Miss Violetta de Vere who transforms her from a plump and slovenly farmer's daughter into a slender, polished young woman. Miss de Vere plans to employ the same techniques on the plain and frumpy daughters of wealthy parents in order to make them more "marriageable". She enlists Bonita in her enterprise and they move to the lovely seaside town of Whitby to get things going. Soon, however, Bonita realizes that there's a lot more to this business than meets the eye and that Miss Violetta's intentions may be less than honourable.
Here are some of the places that inspired early scenes in the book:

The grave of Bonita's parents and the place she meets Reverend Jeremy Castleford.
Ruskin's view where Bonita learns a lesson about true beauty.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Poetry for Fiction Writers


Ask most fiction writers when they last wrote a poem and they'll probably look up from their laptops and shrug. Writing poetry and even reading it isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you're trying to develop a novel. You're far more likely to get into tutorials about plot structure, "sign post outlining", story arcs and plot points.
But it's too easy to get bogged down with all this and forget about the beauty of language and the excitement of risk-taking with vivid imagery and adventurous metaphors and similes. That's what poetry is all about. Maximum impact with minimum words. Reading poetry and experimenting with it yourself can sharpen up your own writing and make it fresh, bold and original again.
I'm not claiming to be a great poet but I've used it in several ways to help me along with novels. It's like giving your story a shot of adrenalin. here are some ways it helps:
It can sharpen up a setting and make the atmosphere more vivid. I wrote this little prose poem when I first started THE PITMAN'S DAUGHTER. It really helped me get the feel of the street:
Brick terraced houses wind upwards in two straight rows towards flaming red sky at the pit end of the street. Giant black wheel cranks the winding gear that sends the cages of men underground. Smoke from morning coal fires hangs in a greyish haze while down on the street a ragged toddler pulls up her skirt and tries to piddle against the wall like a boy. Children run barefoot or in dog-eared boots. Splashing through puddles, they follow the clank of the milkman’s cart. Kettles sing and steam on hobs and mantel clocks tick away the hours.  Gossips lean meaty arms over wooden gates to gossip the day away until wet-skin washing flaps itself dry.


It can also help you find the right words to create a mood. Here's one I tried with a thriller I'm currently working on:
Night Images
Night train shuffles in the distance
Orangy black clouds
Trees grouped in threes  threes  threes
Black leaves rustle
like old pennies
Inky water
Smells of bleach and wet skin
Your breath clouds        
Body breaks
Salt sweat        salt sweet
Footprints on damp grass
 You imagine
silhouettes of chimneys
A half-folded umbrella
Splayed ribs
Pale bones
Your hand sticky
with dew
Now I'm not sure how much of this I'll use in the actual novel but some of the images will definitely help to create a particular mood. The thing about poetry is that when you're writing it, you tend to be more adventurous with words, something you forget when you're trying to develop a story. So every now and then it's really helpful to break away from that dialogue and just try to get to those crazy, out of the box images. It'll liven up your writing .
And if you simply want to read or listen to poetry here are some great resources on the web:
Listen to Sylvia Plath reading her poem Daddy. Incredibly powerful!
Or Charles Bukowski reading Bluebird. An amazing reflection on the emotional repression of men!
Or, I challenge you to listen to this poem without tears coming to your eyes - Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines by  Pablo Neruda and read by the gorgeous Andy Garcia. Best love poem ever!

There are so many great readings on YouTube. Forget about dancing dogs and talking kittens and try a few!



Thursday, 17 October 2013

An Afternoon with Margaret Atwood

I can't think of a better way to spend a sunny fall afternoon than revelling in the intelligence and wry wit of one of the greatest literary icons of our time, the great Margaret Atwood, who appeared at McNally Robinson Bookstore yesterday.
This iconic author, recipient of the Booker Prize, the Giller prize, the Arthur C Clarke award and numerous others has been a major influence on my writing career. Books like The Edible Woman, Cat's Eye, The Robber Bride, The Blind Assassin, the chilling Alias Grace, the groundbreaking Handmaiden's Tale, the brilliant Oryx and Crake helped me to see that a writer shouldn't pigeonhole themselves and that science fiction is probably the most exciting and important genre around today.
A huge crowd turned out to see her and I even overheard a young twentyish woman say, "A bunch of us skipped out of work to see her. She's like the Beyonce of literature!"
Terry McLeod of CBC Radio interviewed her mainly about Maddaddam, the final book in her brilliant sci-fi trilogy. She talked about her love of biology, environmentalism, her fascination with technology and the real science behind her dystopian trilogy. You can access it now on her Flipboard site. When asked what she thought about others comparing her to George Orwell she says she does it all the time and when McLeod made reference to the shocking "language/profanity" in her book she replied that he was only shocked because she wrote it! She confessed to using the Urban Dictionary just to make sure she had the right modern touch.
The afternoon concluded with a book signing and the longest lineup seen in years at the bookstore. I was thrilled to get my book signed and chat for a few short moments with this incredible author.
Ms Atwood was here to see the debut performance of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Company's production of The Handmaiden's Tale. You can find her comments about the adaptation right here.
Amanda Green and Alexander Gamayunov in RWB's The Handmaid's Tale. (RWB/Réjean Brandt Photography)


Sunday, 6 October 2013

The Birth of a Story

"What inspired you to write this book?" is probably the most frequent the question an author is asked. And the answer is that inspiration and ideas come from many sources. Ideas and possibilities present themselves daily and many authors record them in a journal for future reference.
I got the idea for THE PITMAN'S DAUGHTER when I travelled back to Durham County in the 1980's. I stood at the top of a hill I'd travelled down as a child in my dad's old Commer van and I was struck by the total change in the landscape. What was once a black expanse of slag heaps, heavy machinery tracks and coal mines was now a clean, green valley.
That's when I came up with the character, Rita, an ambitious girl determined to leave the poverty of the  street and find success. She ultimately discovers that she may have travelled far but the place and the people were always with her, drawing her back to face the painful memories she'd tried to leave behind.
At the time I travelled back there in the early 1980's a brand new outdoor museum was expanding its operations at Beamish, County Durham. Beamish is a "living museum"that recreates streets, townsites, mines and farms from the old days of the North East. Visit the "Pit Village" exhibit online and you'll see actual miners' cottages recreated from Francis Street in Hetton-le Hole, a school, a fish and chip shop, a band hall and lots more. Take a look inside the houses and you'll see exactly what Crag Street, the home of THE PITMAN'S DAUGHTER, was like.

IMPORTANT UPDATE!! On Wednesday October 9th, THE PITMAN'S DAUGHTER will be available FREE on Kindle FOR ONE DAY ONLY!!! If you've read the book already and enjoyed it, tell your friends about it. Spread the word!!

Friday, 27 September 2013

New books on my shelves: Feature and Follow Friday #168

New books on my shelves: Feature and Follow Friday #168

New books on my shelves include:
Creepy, suspenseful thriller with unexpected plot twists

The second book in this exciting series










Love all the Gillian Flynn books. This is her first novel but the last one of hers I've read. I hope she comes out with another one soon!









WHERE DO I LIKE TO READ?
Here's a beautiful spot in the park where I like to take a book sometimes. It's a Japanese garden. Very peaceful!




Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Thank heaven for showers!

I thought I'd share with you a little more background info on life in a mining village during the 19th and first half of the 20th century. This will give you an insight into the world of THE PITMAN'S DAUGHTER.
In my grandmother's house I always remember a tin bath hanging on the wall because of course there wasn't an actual bathroom in most colliery houses. The toilet was outside (a flush one thankfully by the 1940's) and most washing was done at the scullery sink. Often the tin bath was kept out in the yard.
Pit baths were available for miners after a shift was done, which really eased the workload of the miners' wives but some miners preferred not to use them.  Info from The People's Collection of Wales reveals that some miners refused to wash the coal dust from the small of their back because they thought it would diminish their strength.
  Most often bath night was on a Friday. It took place in the kitchen - the nerve-centre of the house. The tin bath was taken down, put in front of the fire and filled with kettlefuls of hot water. Later, some houses had small electric water heaters installed in the scullery making it  easier to access the hot water, but in the early days you simply had to boil the kettle on the hob.
Getting a bath was hard work! In a large family bathing was usually in age order. Women draped sheets over a clothes horse and bathed behind it for modesty's sake (National Coalmining Museum for England). Check out this first hand account of bath night using a tin bath.
If you have any more info you'd like to share from your own family history, just leave a comment. I'd love to hear!
© National Museum of Wales
photo credit: The National Museum of Wales / Amgueddfa Cymru
PITMAN'S DAUGHTER UPDATE! Check out the latest amazing review on Goodreads! The book is also available at McNally Robinson and Barnes and Noble.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

OOPS!!!THREE IMPORTANT MESSAGES!



Miners' wives hang out the washing(1940's)


#1 - Thank you for all your support with my new release THE PITMAN'S DAUGHTER! Sales are really starting to take off, particularly in the UK (Thanks to all of you in the North-East) with some in the USA, some in Canada and some actually in Germany! This has also improved sales of THE FOREVER ONES. Also, I made some enquiries, Amazon.ca has lowered the paperback price of THE PITMAN'S DAUGHTER"to a more reasonable one.

#2 - OOPS! If you ordered a paperback version of THE PITMAN'S DAUGHTER, you may or may not have noticed a typo on the back cover. It reads "Their relationship is complicated by the tragic Maggie, abused wife of seven children and Ella, the childless street gossip with her nose in everyone’s business." No it's not THAT kind of story. It should read, "Maggie, abused mother of seven children."
My apologies for that oversight. It's being corrected as we speak but that means you have a unique version of the book.

#3 - If you're not from the North-East of England, you'll notice there's a great deal of local dialect in THE PITMAN'S DAUGHTER that you may have trouble understanding. here's a couple of common words used in it:
 "ard"  = old
 "wife" = woman, usually an older, married one so an "ard wife" is an old woman
"bairn"= child
"lugs" = ears
"cloth lugs" = not listening, hard of hearing (not clinically)
"gannin" = going 
"gob" = mouth
You can find out more about this dialect from The Durham and Tyneside Dialect Group


Friday, 13 September 2013

CAKES, CAKES, CREATIVE CAKES!

Laura's latest cake!








Giant cupcake with roses



Once in a while it's great to feature something totally different. To step away from fiction and focus on something really delectable, fun, yummy and decadent. Something that just makes you happy. I'm talking about cakes. And not just any cake. I mean the CAKE BOSS TYPE!    Check out these gorgeous cakes made by my daughter,  Laura. She's a designer and this is her latest interest. These cakes were custom made for some very special people.

The Vegas Cake complete with fondant dice!
   
Bowtie and suspenders                   Barbie Girl

I think they're gorgeous and one thing's for sure - they made the recipients very, very happy so why don't you take a break on this Friday 13th and make, buy or order the most decadent cake you can think of. Or better still - get Laura to make you one! You'll feel way better for it.