Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Début Author: Victoria Gemmell

I’m sure I don’t have to tell anyone how very proud and delighted I am to welcome my daughter Victoria to the Reading and Writing blog today! I’ve watched her creative talent grow since she was about five or six and rejoiced when she developed her love for reading and writing to the stage where she began submitting short fiction and being published. But this has been her dream – to hold her own novel in her hands and her dad and I are celebrating with her! I couldn’t resist interviewing her but first a bit about Follow Me. It’s a cracking story, and I can’t wait to read it properly at last.

Follow Me

What is the deadly allure of the Barn?

17-year-old Kat Sullivan has been devastated by the loss of her twin sister, Abby, the most recent of five teenagers to have died in the town of Eddison, all within a year. No-one seems able to explain the circumstances surrounding her death.

As Kat struggles to move on, she is introduced to an underground hangout – the Barn – by Abby’s friends. There, she meets the enigmatic Rob and his friend Michael, art students who have re-created pop artist Andy Warhol’s infamous Factory, where creative types can construct art and socialise.

Drawn into Rob’s social scene, and seduced by the attention of this attractive stranger, Kat relishes the freedom and escape offered by the Barn’s non-conformity and creativity.
But the Barn holds a strange influence over those who frequent it, and soon Kat begins to realise how little she knew about her sister’s life.

Kat needs answers. She also needs to stay alive.

Follow Me is available in print from Amazon, Foyles, and to order from Waterstones and other bookshops. It is being launched by her publisher, Strident, at Waterstones, Argyle Street, Glasgow at 6.30pm on Friday 9th October. The e-book will follow in a few weeks.

Thanks for taking time to answer these questions, Victoria!

When did you start writing and why?

I started writing stories when I was in Primary School. I always loved reading and the idea of constructing my own stories appealed to me. It also helped that my Mum (you!) wrote, so it was something which always seemed a natural thing to do. I like the feeling of getting lost in a creative ‘flow’, which I think occurs when you write, draw, paint, play music... I can’t imagine ever not writing. It feels like a part of who I am!

How do you fit your writing around your full time day job?

It’s a challenge! I used to complain time was a factor, but then I realised it’s not always about time, it’s about head space and being able to switch from a work brain, to a ‘creative brain’. Once I’m completely lost in a story, which happened pretty much from the start with Follow Me, it becomes a lot easier. I had a good routine of writing Follow Me in evenings after work, and at weekends, but I’m not always so disciplined! I find a novel can live in my head for a while, and lines and scenes will appear at random moments throughout my day - I make good use of the notes section on my phone, so I don’t forget any ideas that appear throughout the day (or when I’m just about to go to sleep at night).

Have you always written novel length fiction?

No, I also like writing short stories and flash fiction. I also went through a phase during my University days writing quite angsty poetry (I wrote a slightly better poem a couple of years ago). I think writing shorter pieces helped to improve my writing, as it encouraged me to be a bit more experimental with my style. Sometimes an idea will come to me quickly and I don’t always want to explore it in a novel length piece – it can be satisfying to explore an idea in as little as 500 words.

What attracted you to YA fiction and do you enjoy reading it?

When the story of Follow Me started to form in my head I knew it was going to be a story about teenagers so it fitted into the YA genre, but ultimately I wrote a story which I wanted to read. I love reading YA as I think a lot of these books tend to be driven by character and plot and the authors aren’t afraid to explore emotional and current contemporary issues. I think it’s more recognised now that even if a book is labelled Young Adult, a lot of the time that readership extends way beyond teens, which I hope will be the case with Follow Me.

Definitely – I love this type of fiction!

There are a lot of Pop culture references as well as poetry – is this something that particularly interests you?

During my undergraduate degree in Communication and Mass Media one of my favourite modules was Popular Culture. I developed a fascination with Andy Warhol, one of the leading Pop Artists and I continued to read about his art, and life, long after I graduated, all of which influenced the idea to feature an underground hangout in Follow Me, called the Barn, modelled on Warhol’s infamous ‘Factory’ studio. Warhol was very perceptive about the direction society was heading in, with his art mirroring society’s increasing obsession with fame, celebrities, and ‘the surface image’. These are themes I touch upon in my story.

I always enjoyed analysing poems during Higher and Sixth Year Studies English (though focused on more contemporary poets during that time), and grew up surrounded by book cases containing a wide variety of poetry. I liked the idea of incorporating some quotes from poems into the story. Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn (quoted in Follow Me), is a brilliant poem, and I like the layers of meaning you can get from it.

Why did you make your story about twins?

When the plot was developing in my head, my main protagonist, Kat, came to me first, and I knew she was going to be struggling with the unexplained death (an apparent suicide) of someone very close to her. I thought it would be interesting to explore the relationship of twins and the guilt Kat would feel knowing she had distanced herself from Abby, wanting to forge her own identity. It also allowed a couple of instances of mistaken identity and confusing emotions between her and Rob (who knew Abby first).

Also Andy Warhol was a big fan of repeating images over and over in his work, to reflect sameness and the loss of originality. I think my subconscious was at work a lot of the time during the creation of this story!

Is music important to you and do you listen while writing?

Yes, I rarely write without music on in the background. It really helps me to get into the ‘mood’ of a story and I find some songs are a really good emotional soundtrack to help me get into a certain state of mind. I love the band The Silversun Pickups and a lot of their songs became the ‘soundtrack’ for Follow Me.

How did you feel when this first YA novel was accepted?

Amazing! My publisher sent me an email one night telling me he had finished reading Follow Me and wondered if I could meet with him the next day. Due to personal and work commitments I had to wait a very long two days before I could have the meeting, and I still didn’t let myself believe it was good news as I’d had so many ‘nearly there’ moments with this book. So when I heard the words, ‘I loved your book and want to publish it,’ it was a brilliant moment. I really appreciated the fact my publisher told me face to face and talked me through a lot of things during the meeting. It made it all the more exciting!

Are you writing another?

Yes. I’m not going to say much, but it’s another YA mystery.

Any tips for new writers?

Read lots – you really learn your craft from paying attention to good writers. Write lots –experiment with different genres, styles and lengths. Join a writing group and attend festivals/events, to get feedback on your work and to speak to other writers. If you believe in your story, there’s a good chance someone else out there will too (and if you’re lucky they’ll appear in the form of a publisher).

Good advice! Thanks a lot for sharing your interesting answers and have a great time at your launch!

Follow Victoria:

Instagram: victoriagemmellauthor

Victoria Gemmell lives in Renfrewshire and her debut Young Adult novel Follow Me is due for release this week by Strident Publishing Ltd. Whilst studying an undergraduate degree in Communication and Mass Media, Victoria developed a fascination with pop culture and Andy Warhol, which has influenced a lot of the ideas in Follow Me. She works with teenagers on a daily basis as a careers adviser and loves films, music, art and chocolate.

Victoria has had shorter works published in journals such as the WordswithJAM anthology An Earthless Melting Pot, The Grind Journal, The Puffin Review, FlashFlood, Word Bohemia and The Bohemyth Literary Journal, writing under the name Vikki. 

Friday, 2 October 2015

Signs of Autumn

It's definitely into my favourite season now, although we've had glorious sunshine here for the past few days, once the thick morning fog cleared. I can't believe how long it is since I updated the blog - still too many days gadding out and about and enjoying coffees, lunches and a particularly enjoyable clothes shopping trip with my friend. There was as much chatting, drinking and eating as there was trying on clothes and the day passed so quickly we ended up driving home in the rush hour traffic!

I've been enjoying the typical signs of autumn in the hedgerows and at the coast with rose hips and brambles and I don't mind the darker nights when the TV has been so good at last. Between the lovely BBC productions of An Inspector Calls, The Go Between and Cider with Rosie, we've been quite spoiled. I also enjoy Downton Abbey and have been watching the new Scandi crime drama, Beck, on BBC 4 on Saturday evenings, as well as the creepy ITV drama, Midwinter of the Spirit (love that title), and Doctor Foster on BBC. You can tell I love drama!

On the writing front, I've been featured on two different blogs with two different books yesterday and today - quite coincidentally as yesterday's should have been last week. The first is on Thursday Throng with Summer of the Eagles and today I'm on Cynthia Woolf's blog, where I'm talking about the background to The Highland Lass.

Next week, I'm speaking at a local writing group so need to finish preparing that, and I'm looking forward to interviewing daughter Victoria before the launch of Follow Me!

Enjoy your weekend,

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

End of Summer

I'm usually quite excited about the start of autumn, my favourite season, as it's a great time to get organised and look forward to a more productive writing time. This year, I seem to be taking longer to get into gear and have been gallivanting again instead of getting fully into the current project. However, the weather is bound to get steadily worse up here so it's probably best to get out and about whenever it's dry.

Last week was Doors Open weekend in Inverclyde and husband and I took the chance to visit the old Fire Station. Now a heritage centre, it has everything we need to know about the history of the fire service in the west of Scotland. A brilliant morning! While I was most interested in anything from the Victorian times, husband thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it. The man who generously shared information with us couldn't have been more knowledgeable and we both aim to have another visit at some time. The photos, fire engines and displays are excellent resource material.

This weekend, we took advantage of a lovely dry, breezy day to visit Largs, one of our favourite spots on the coast. We park at one end so we can walk right along the prom beside the sea and usually end up in Nardini's for morning coffee. This is the famous Art Deco building which has some of the best ice cream around, although I give that a miss these days! Largs is also where the little ferry sails the short distance across to the isle of Cumbrae - more usually called Millport, the name of its small town. That's the island that inspired my tween book, Summer of the Eagles.

As the nights draw in, I'm loving all the new programmes and drama on TV, especially the BBC literary adaptations. I've enjoyed each of them so far and look forward to Cider with Rosie next weekend. Now I just have to find some enthusiasm for my own writing projects!

* I'm delighted that my daughter, Victoria, is having the launch of her first YA novel, Follow Me, on Friday 9th October at Waterstones in Glasgow! Can't wait to celebrate this moment with her and I'll be interviewing Victoria here in October.


Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Short Story Collection, Countdown and Freebies

I've been meaning to put together another collection of short stories for a while and this weekend I finally had the chance to work on it. So End of the Road and other stories is now available from Amazon UK and Amazon US.

These twelve are quite different from my relationship type of stories and most are a bit quirky in some way, with light crime, fantasy and black humour. Many have been mentioned in Scottish competitions and a couple have been previously published but others are more difficult to place. Anyway, far better to have them all together than languishing on the computer!

From tomorrow until Saturday (16th to 19th), my other collection, Beneath the Treetops, is going on countdown to only 99p (99c) on Amazon until the Saturday.

Two of my RNA colleagues are offering one of their romance novels for FREE for a limited time:

Gwen Kirkwood's A New Beginning can be downloaded free from now until Friday 18th from Amazon.

Liz Fielding's Eloping with Emily is free to download all this month on Amazon.


Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Transport, Tea and the Past in York

We had a great mini break in York at the weekend as it's such a long time since we've visited this amazing city and we made the most of our three days. We had a great view of the Minster from our hotel window so we head off to Evensong the first day. This was a good way to experience the awesomeness that is York Minster. It didn't matter which faith you had or none when the male voices blended and soared in the singing of the hymns, while their sung prayers immediately transported me back to medieval times.

View from our hotel window

Next day, it was off to the transport museum where husband could feast his eyes on all kinds of trains - a long-time interest of his. I love the steam trains but I was very taken with the Dandy Car that used to be pulled by a horse. We even tried the Mallard Experience, though not the full simulated version. It's such a huge, busy place that we were glad to have gone first thing in the morning and left after lunch.


York itself is so old that a few of the buildings around the narrow Shambles area look in danger of falling down but that's part of their charm. I loved the quirky names and features we suddenly came upon, like the figure of Minerva, Roman goddess of wisdom and the arts. No visit to York is complete without tea and cake at the famous Betty's Tearoom, but be prepared to wait for a table. It is such an icon that people queue to get in but it's worth it for the beautiful pot of real tea served with a little tea strainer and the cakes are an added attraction!


One of the other attractions I really wanted to visit was the Castle Museum as I had a vague recollection of it from many years ago, before I was so interested in writing about the past. Neither of us was disappointed as it has something for everyone, from recreated rooms, to childhood toys and a Victorian Street complete with various shops. There was a new section recreating elements of the First World War, where we had to walk through corridors lined with sandbags like in the trenches. Although fascinating, we didn't want to dwell on the awful facts again as it's too horrible to think of the numbers of young men sent out to die, but it would be ideal for anyone writing about that period.

Victorian Parlour
Victorian Street
Of course, the reason I'd gone to York in the first place was to attend the RNA Afternoon Tea at the centuries old Guildhall - the first event to be arranged so far north. It was a resounding success, both for the tea and cakes and the company. The surroundings made it even more special and the lovely caterers kept us supplied with copious pots of tea all afternoon, as well as sandwiches, quiche and pastries, several types of cake and scones with jam and cream. I was glad we had a gap between each 'course' and needless to say there was much chatter at every table. It was lovely to meet up with old friends and to meet some members for the first time.

York Guildhall
I shared a table with lovely ladies, Helena Fairfax, Marie Laval, Anne Stenhouse and Helen Pollard - the very gallant John Jackson should have been in the photo but he was too busy taking all the official photos. Northern author Milly Johnson highly entertained us with a talk about the northern bird and how she differs from her southern sister - very amusing and instantly recognisable!

Wonder where the next RNA regional event will be and if I can wangle a few days away again?


Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Living History

I love getting the chance to visit re-enactments or recreations of life in other eras, especially helpful for a historical novelist or non-fiction writer. So we headed down the coast to Largs at the weekend and I finally managed to go inside the recreated Viking Village which is built every year to commemorate the Battle of Largs in 1263. The modern day invasion is much friendlier and I got to explore some of the homes, workplaces and weaponry from the 13th century.

I was delighted to find an archer, as I had the chance to try archery at school many, many moons ago and always fancied the sport. So I paid my £1 for three shots and once the long-haired Swede reminded me how to hold the bow and when to let go (after a not so good practice shot), I finally managed to fire all three arrows straight down to the targets - even if they fell on the ground when they got there! I'd love to have had more practise but I contented myself with a photo of the archer.

Another year, I was overjoyed to visit a medieval day at Paisley Abbey and surrounds as I'm really keen on that period. I love the Abbey anyway and was glad of a an excuse to revisit it, this time enhanced by the addition of an apothecary and scribe within the building for the day. Then we watched the dancing, fighting and medieval musicians, as well as visiting the various stalls depicting skills and food and such like from the era.

This weekend, I'm off to the Romantic Novelists' Association first ever Afternoon Tea at York which is going to be held in the beautiful Guildhall. It's some years since I've visited York, so I can't wait to enjoy all the history again. No doubt I'll report back with photos afterwards.

Have you been to any interesting recreations of history?


Monday, 24 August 2015

Back to Work?

I had meant to take only one week off from social media and blogging while our visitors were here but I needed another week after they'd gone as I was completely out of work mode! That's not a problem since I believe regular breaks help us to unwind and refocus. It took me until yesterday to start organising and sorting all the bits and pieces of necessary admin and such like so I could begin to feel in control again.

We had a really lovely week with my sis-in-law and her husband and it was a good excuse for us to revisit some of our favourite places. I always manage to get new photos, even though I'm never in any of them, which is fine by me except when I'm looking for an up-to-date photo of me for an article or someone's blog post.

As well as Loch Lomond and Luss, we went further south to Ayrshire one of the days, then across the River Clyde to a wonderful farm estate, Ardardan Walled Garden, we discovered recently which has an excellent cafe. I love the fact the animals are all around for children to see (and adults like me). There was quite a noise from the long hen house where the the occupants clucked in and out and wandered freely around the open space. I loved the Kiwi pig who kindly looked up so I could take a photo!

It was sad to see our visitors head back to North Wales, although we love visiting them down there and hopefully we'll see them again soon. Meantime, I'm still a bit behind with writing projects and especially the newsletter which I hope to remedy soon. Somehow, I think it's more important to get out and about being inspired by nature and interesting places, some of which will no doubt end up in another story or novel.

Hope everyone is enjoying the last days of summer!

Monday, 10 August 2015

Taking a Break

We have my sister-in-law and husband coming to stay this week, arriving later today, so we're taking a break too so we can enjoy getting out and about since it's ages since they were up in Scotland and we're really looking forward to spending time with them. It's a great excuse to revisit some of my favourite places and eat out a few times! And, of course, a writer's mind is ever observing and taking note of anything interesting for future stories or articles.

I did, however, promise to visit the Erskine Library with other members of our writing group on Wednesday afternoon and hope to still take part in that - it's during the week-long festival and this gives our writing group, and its authors, some publicity. I'm sure husband and visitors will enjoy an afternoon to themselves while I'm there.

I mentioned on Facebook last night that I had just watched wonderful film, The Shawshank Redemption, for only the second time and my post elicited a lot of comments from people who also love the film. I haven't read the book of stories it appears in, Different Seasons, by Stephen King, but I'll now get around to it at some point. I usually detest prison films but this was so compelling, partly because of the main actors, Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, and the interesting characters they portrayed so well.

I'm sure most people will have see the film by now, even if they haven't read the book, but there's a good overview written a while back by one of my fellow Crooked Cat authors, Nik Morton, which you can find here.

And talking of Crooked Cat - their great Summer Sale is on this week and many of the books are on special offer at only 99p (99c) on Amazon. I let The Highland Lass go into it too as lots of people love a bargain!

Hope you have a good week.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Author Inspiration: Helena Fairfax

I’m delighted to welcome lovely writing and blogging friend Helena Fairfax to the Reading and Writing blog again. I loved Helena’s previous romance stories, The Silk Romance and The Antique Love and at the moment I’m thoroughly enjoying her new novella Palace of Deception. I also have her full length novel, A Way from Heart to Heart, waiting on my bookshelf and I know to expect a very good read. Helena has kindly agreed to share a little about the inspiration for her new novella. But first the intriguing blurb.

Palace of Deception

A sinister housekeeper, a silent bodyguard, and a missing princess - mystery and intrigue in a gripping romantic suspense.

When Princess Charlotte of Montverrier disappears on the eve of her Investiture, Lizzie Smith takes on the acting job of her life.

But in the run up to the ceremony, all is not what it seems in the Palace of Montverrier. Why does the housekeeper insist Lizzie keep to her suite of rooms? What danger lies outside the palace walls? As Lizzie learns her role, her only confidant is Léon, her quiet bodyguard…but what secrets is he keeping from her? And above all, what has happened to the missing Princess?

Mystery and suspense against the backdrop of a beautiful Mediterranean city.

Palace of Deception is available on AmazonUSAmazon UK; Amazon CA and other international Amazon stores, and will be available in other formats from November.

Lovely to ‘see’ you, Helena and so pleased we met in person again at the recent Romantic Novelists’ weekend conference. Thank you for the great post – I too enjoy stories about Doppelgängers!

Why I Love Stories about Doppelgängers

There’s a long tradition of stories about doppelgängers – or look-alikes - in film and literature. Stories like A Tale of Two Cities, Vertigo, The Comedy of Errors, Dead Ringers, or The Parent Trap. My favourite doppelgänger story of all time has to be The Prisoner of Zenda. In case you don’t know this tale, it’s about a young Englishman who takes a holiday to a small European country. There he discovers that he’s the double of the heir, Rudolf V, who has been kidnapped. It’s a really exciting, swashbuckling story, with a massively attractive baddie in the form of Rupert of Hentzau (played by the fabulous James Mason in the film).

When I first started writing my romantic suspense, I thought it would be good fun to join in this long literary tradition. My heroine, Lizzie Smith, is so like Princess Charlotte of Montverrier, she’s asked to take her part when the princess disappears in mysterious circumstances. Lizzie spends five weeks shut up alone in a suite of rooms in the Palace of Montverrier practising for her role, with only Léon, her handsome bodyguard, for company. Of course, there has to be a baddie to add an edge of suspense to the story, and my baddie appears in the form of Daria, the Palace’s mysterious housekeeper.

Here’s a scene when all three are getting to know one another:

‘The King is far too unwell to leave his room in the hospital.’ The chill in Daria’s expression dropped another degree. ‘We must pray that the King does not die before the Princess has been crowned next-in-line. If he does, it will leave the throne empty and – ’
She broke off. Finally, she had shown some emotion. What was it she was afraid of? I remembered the angry words daubed outside the Cathedral. Just how dangerous were the protesters? My eyes flew to Léon, standing in the doorway. Beside the forbidding housekeeper, his presence was solid and reassuring.
   His eyes met mine. ‘You have nothing to fear, Lizzie.’
   The tension left my shoulders. There was something uncomplicated about Léon that drew my trust. And after all, what could happen to me in a Palace so well guarded?
   ‘Very well,’ I said. ‘And now I’d like to ask you both a favour. Please don’t think of me as Lizzie Smith. I’d like you to start addressing me as you would the Princess.’ I smiled, indicating my travel-stained jeans and flat pumps. ‘It might seem strange to you, when I’m dressed like this, but I need to immerse myself in my role.’
   Léon nodded and gave a small bow of his head. ‘Very well, Your Highness.’
   I was taken aback by the promptness of his response, and so I almost missed the remarkable change in Daria’s features. Her eyes flashed fury. I thought for a split second I must have imagined it. What could possibly have caused such anger? Even after her expression returned to its blank chill, her cheeks remained mottled with red.
   After a short pause, she said, ‘Very good.’ And then, after another telling hesitation, ‘Your Highness.’
   I tried to hide my dismay. I had no wish to provoke a quarrel. Over the housekeeper’s shoulder, Léon continued to look at me, straight faced. And then one corner of his mouth lifted in a brief smile and, unbelievably, he gave me a reassuring wink.

Why is the housekeeper so furious with Lizzie? Who are the protesters outside the Palace? And is Léon really to be trusted?

I hope you’ve enjoyed my excerpt, and a small taste of the secrets and deception in the Palace of Montverrier. If you’d like to hear more, you can find me on my website, or on Facebook, or on Twitter.

Thanks so much for having me, Rosemary!

It’s been a pleasure, Helena!

Helena Fairfax was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. She's grown used to the cold now, and these days she lives in an old Victorian mill town in Yorkshire, in the north of England. After many years working in factories and dark, satanic mills, Helena has turned to writing full-time. Her first novel, 

The Silk Romance, was a contender for the Romantic Novelists' Association New Writers' Scheme Award and a runner-up in the Global Ebook Awards. Since then, Helena has written lots more stories, and she was recently a finalist in the Exeter Novel Prize.

In her spare time, Helena walks the Yorkshire moors every day with her rescue dog, finding this romantic landscape the perfect place to dream up her heroes and her happy endings.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Nostalgia of Golden Age Crime

The last couple of weeks, I was delighted to discover a re-run of the Dorothy L Sayers Mysteries on the TV Drama programme. I missed the first story where Lord Peter Wimsey met Harriet Vane and helped to exonerate her when she stood accused for murder, but I was totally engrossed in the next couple of stories. I loved Edward Petherbridge's wonderful portrayal of Lord Peter and Harriet Walters intelligent Miss Vane.

I've always loved the 'golden age' of crime novels: D.L.Sayers; Ngaio Marsh; Gladys Mitchell; Marjery Allingham and Agatha Christie. Although we have endless adaptations of Christie novels on TV, the others seem to be rarely filmed. A while back, I did catch the splendid series of Gladys Mitchell adaptations starring Diana Rigg as psychological sleuth, Mrs Adela Bradley.

I used to have many of the old paperbacks but they were so tattered that we got rid of them. My aim is to replace them at some point when I decide what other books are staying and which are going from the overcrowded shelves! Do you have a favourite golden age crime novelist or character?