Thursday, 31 March 2011

Senior Moments

We've all talked about forward planning in our lives and no less enthusiastically after the family has flown. One thing a writer knows at the beginning of her new project, is that it will be approximately a nine-month odyssey of labour and delivery, that in many ways reflect a familiar pattern. It's not a pink or blue nursery with pretty mobiles that I'm preparing, but an internal journey, shadowed with voices and unknown movement. I'll make, not visits to Marks&Sparks baby department, but epost an outline/synopsis to my editor and describe the life I hope to create. I've a name, not Sarah or Stephen, but a working title, and a form in my head that can't be detected by a scan, but by a place in my brain/heart called the subconscious. Each day a little weight adds to the embryo and the heartbeat suddenly kicks in, more than likely waking me up from a deep sleep. The little feet don't kick but the ideas tumble around, like a panic delivery from an online Tesco shop. In a sweat, I sit up and wonder what the heck I'm doing yet again at the beginning that white water ride of gestation. How do I connect with my baby before the weight piles on? How much knowledge of this mysterious creature is embedded in my mind? What do I have to do, to ensure a safe delivery? All my various strategies pale into fear and desperation in the middle of that dark night. I mop my brow and peer into the gloom. I've been through it all before; the relaxation, meditation, contemplation, and frustration. Shall I really do it all over again? And then the first light of dawn spills through the window. The ideas are subtly whispered through this inner child's voice. The whisper is so faint that it feels as though the minute I have it, the next, it's gone. But it will come again and I should have more faith. I know I am committed and that delivery date will happen, as it always has, within a predictable margin of time. I get up and make a cup of tea and gaze out at the trees and flowers, the first blush of spring that spills over the hedge. And I welcome this pregnancy and my invisible embryo, knowing that I'll be able to eat as many pickled gherkins as I fancy without being sick. I may not have a nursery, a set of three lemon babygrows and a wardrobe full of Pampers to organize, but I do have a blush-pink memory stick and sky-blue laptop, a Wi-Fi modem and an IPod. And sipping that first drop of Yorkshire Tea, I ask myself what senior-moment-writer could ask for more than this?

Anita Burgh: Bagpipes and Bullshot. Janice Horton

My blog has been seriously neglected of late and I apologise but life has a habit of interfering with the best laid plans. However, my friend, Janice Horton has jogged me into writing of my interview with her.

Janice lives in Scotland and writes humorous contemporary women's novels which are inspired by the beauty of the heather-filled glens around her country cottage. When she’s not writing novels she writes lifestyle articles and has had work published in national magazines and regional newspapers. She’s also been involved in BBC Scotland's ‘Write Here Write Now’ project.

Have you always wanted to write?

Janice: I’ve had romantic notions about being a writer since I was a little girl. Enid Blyton was a favourite inspiration in the early days. I had a garden shed with ‘SS’ on the door in which I sat writing my own ‘Secret Seven’ books starring me, of course, and my brothers and friends. A few years later, I was still sitting in the shed, only writing pony stories inspired by Ruby Ferguson’s ‘Jill Books’.

Anita: Blyton was an extraordinary woman and despite the PC brigade still so popular. She must have inspired many.

How long have you been writing?

Janice: I began to write seriously ten years ago, and by that I mean with the intention of being published.

You are published in fiction and non fiction. Which do you prefer?

Janice: I really enjoy writing lifestyle articles for national magazines and regional newspapers but I absolutely love to write fiction. My first novel, When We First Love, was published in 2004 by a small publisher, which unfortunately went out of business just as I’d completed my second book, ‘Beneath Apricot Skies’ which I self-published. My latest venture is to indie e-book publish on Amazon Kindle with my novel ‘Bagpipes & Bullshot’. I’m excited to explore this intriguing new publishing media.

Anita: I think everyone in the publishing business are fascinated by the e-publishing phenomena, I certainly am. Do let us all know how it goes.

You work, you write, you blog, you have a family, you have animals, I am exhausted listing them all. How and when and where do you find and make time to write?

Janice: I don’t write every day, although I’d love to. A typical morning for me is sorting out admin and doing accounts. I run a small graphic design company that I set up years ago. After lunch, except on a Thursday, I work in the village as a legal secretary. So after seeing to the family, walking the dogs, and attending to the hens, it just leaves a few stolen hours in the evenings and one afternoon to write – unless, for the sake of my sanity, I take Time Out. This means taking a couple of days when I sit with my laptop at the kitchen table in front of the Aga, or on the sofa next to the fire and make it quite clear to everyone, dogs and hens included, that I’m U-N-A-V-A-I-L-A-B-L-E. I will not cook. I will not answer the phone and I will write all day without any interruptions. I stay up late. In fact, I might not go to bed at all, but if I do, it will be for a couple of hours of my own choosing. Sometimes, as a writer, extreme measures are required or we might never write all the stories trying to burst out of our heads or record the cacophony of voices resonating in our ears.

Anita: You are so right. There has to be an element of ruthlessness when writing, I’m sure. However, I do believe this is a problem mainly for women writers. We lack that essential ingredient for having the time – a wife!

Tell us why you have chosen to e-publish.

Janice: For two reasons: the first was that having been previously published both traditionally and independently, I couldn’t resist the challenge of having a go at e-publishing with Bagpipes & Bullshot, especially on Kindle because distribution and marketing on Amazon are so well established. The second reason was that I unexpectedly fell in love with the Kindle my husband bought me last Christmas and wanted to have my own books on it!

Anita: It certainly seems to be the way forward. We are writing in interesting times.

Who has influenced you the most?

Janice: I don’t know if I’m influenced by anyone actually, because I’m pretty independently minded. I can be inspired and I can take advice, in fact I actively seek it, but I don’t think that’s the same as being influenced. I tend to adopt ideas only if they meld with my own mindset or help me to achieve a predetermined goal. I admire others and have great respect for people who can do things better than I - but I’d rather innovate than imitate.

Anita: I’m surprised by your answer. Most authors I know have someone. For me it is Dickens, I read him and I loved him and I wanted to try and create worlds and people like his, even if they are pale shadows compared to his genius.

What advice would you give someone just setting out?

Janice: I would say write from the heart and listen to your Inner Voice.

Anita: Oh yes, that voice the only one you can really rely on.

Can you tell us about your novel in one sentence?

Janice: Bagpipes & Bullshot is a contemporary romance novel which twists an everyday love story with a whole cast of village eccentrics into an entertaining play on rural life.

What are you planning in the way of promotion for Bagpipes & Bullshot?

Janice: Well, it’s very difficult to get a new e-book noticed by potential readers unless it features on one or more of Amazon’s Top 100 charts, but because of the way Amazon calculates its sales, just a few sales on one particular day can make all the difference in pushing it through the charts. I’ll be blogging and tweeting all day on Friday 1st April my publication day.

For direction to all of the other places I’ll be appearing on my Blog Tour throughout the day please visit I’ll also be running a prize draw on my blog (Friday 1st April only) to win Kindle Beach Protectors (an essential and stylish accessory for every Kindle but alternatively you could always use it to protect your camera or phone!) All you have to do to be in with a chance to win one is go to my blog and leave a comment or ReTweet one of my tweets using the hashtag: #bagpipes.

Anita: Thank you, Janice. Let’s hope you have a resounding success, you should, you’ve worked so hard at the promotional side.

Monday, 7 March 2011

House of Angels

Sagas often touch on difficult subjects, in this case abuse. The three Angel sisters are ruled by a devil of a father, and the story tells how they overcome the damage such abuse inflicts. It is not always easy to write such scenes yet from the emails I get, they often touch a chord. Anyone who has ever suffered abuse, whether as a child or bullying in school, in a violent marriage, or even in the work place, will appreciate how the first thing you lose is self-esteem. You are demeaned, humiliated, debased and shamed so that you come to hate yourself. This is a deliberate ploy on the part of the abuser as it puts the power in his hand.

The abusive mentality makes certain their victim is allowed no control over their own life, no rights, not even to be angry or upset. There is a power in anger, and he, or she, as many of the worst abusers are women, claim full rights to that emotion. He is allowed to shout and criticise, to find fault and complain, but the victim is expected only to obey. The abuser also twists everything to suit himself, so that he is always right and the victim wrong. He has unrealistic expectations and if he doesn’t achieve them then he looks for someone to blame other than himself. An abuser is not generally a good listener, as he likes to ridicule, and arrogantly put down others to make himself feel good. Abusers are demanding, seeing themselves as the centre of the universe, and the victim their slave. They are intolerant and have to win every argument. The abuse may be mental in the form of name calling and insults, refusing to speak to or acknowledge a person, a withdrawal of love or praise, or to never be satisfied with the victim’s efforts at school or work, cooking a meal or whatever. Abuse is about power, control, and entitlement.

But no one is entitled to abuse another.

So how do you deal with it? First, as with the Angel sisters, you have to accept that it is happening, and then seek help. Someone, whether your teacher, mother, best friend, doctor or even the police, needs to be told.

Each of my characters are compliant to a degree, but react in different ways. Ella rebels secretly but is then forced into a marriage she does not want, Livia is openly defiant, but protective of both her sisters. Maggie is far too timid and suffers the consequences. But then another daughter unexpectedly appears on the scene, and her attitude towards this father who abandoned her is entirely different…

The Story...
The three Angel sisters live in a large Victorian mansion in the English Lake District. Josiah Angel, their bully of a father, looks upon his daughters as pawns to expand his empire.

The beautiful Kentmere Valley today.

Empty-headed, spoiled Ella is married off to a non-conformist farmer with three children in need of a mother. Amos Todd proves to be a cold, unfeeling man irrationally obsessed with cleanliness, who sees sex as wicked and women as Jezebels. But the beauty of Kentmere gradually seeps into her heart. Can she make a life for herself in the dale?

Livia is the eldest and most spirited of the three, and feels she must protect her more timid sisters. She longs to be a modern woman and work in the family store, but Josiah forbids that, but she can’t help falling in love with Jack Flint, a man untroubled by rules and convention who has already caused her father problems by inciting riots among his tenants.

The youngest daughter, practical, sensible Maggie is expected to keep house for her father with no hope of marriage, although she longs for escape even more than her sisters.

Mercy Simpson lives in the stews of Fellside in Kendal with her mother Florrie, a linsey hand loom weaver in the last throes of consumption. With her mother’s dying breath she learns that her father is none other than Josiah Angel, owner of the town’s fine department store. Florrie urges her daughter to seek employment there. But when Mercy presents herself before him, she learns how very ruthless Josiah Angel can be.

The Angel sisters need all their courage to escape the control of a brutal father, deal with the results of his abuse, and attempt to forge new lives for themselves.

A view of Kendal as it is today.

Here is a reader review.
This is the first book by Freda Lightfoot I have read and, despite the fact that I am not a lover of sagas, I was engaged with the story from page one. She piles horror on horror – rape, torture, sexual humiliation, incest, suicide - but she keeps you reading! The story of the Angel sisters, the novel is set in the Lake District in 1908, the title referring to the high-class department store their father owns. A tyrant, he successfully marries off one of his legitimate daughters so he can gain a plot of land he wants to build on. When his illegitimate daughter comes to him for help after her mother has died, however, he has her taken to the workhouse as, far from being of use to him, she is a threat to his standing in the town. Another daughter defies him, refusing to give up the working-class man she loves, while his youngest remains at home, hating him but unable to escape. How each of these four women cope with the life their father has forced on them, makes for page-turning reading, and I am sure that this novel will become yet another bestseller for Lightfoot.
Jay Dixon

Out 7 March as an ebook on Amazon

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The Oasis

I'm just researching the 1920 and 30's, the wilder element of those days! As usual I found a little international gem that led me astray, but thought it would make an entertaining post. Has anyone heard of the Garden of Allah, Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood? Nor had I, but apparently, Alla Nazimova, a mysterious, beautiful and hedonistic silent movie star, producer, stage actress and visionary, plus being a former concert violinist, created this wonderful oasis for the benefit of her actor chums. Nazimova converted her well-situated 1921 mansion estate into a three and a half acre semi-tropical hangout for the benefit of the following Names.Gloria
Swanson, Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Clara Bow, Buster Keaton, Ramon Navarro, the Marx Brothers (especially Harpo), Ava Gardner, Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Ernest Hemingway, Lillian Hellman, Joe E. Lewis, Artie Shaw, Marlene Dietrich, George Kaufman and Larry Olivier. Not everybody wanted to be seen there - like Orson Wells because of the tangle of phony marriages, the fist-fights, the liquor,recreational sex, drugs, robberies and drunken rages that made up the era. Having their souls consumed by the Hollywood system, orgies, more robberies, feuds, money problems and sudden changes of plan caused the Garden of Allah to gain quite a bohemian reputation. I could have lingered in this fire-breathing, head-spinning, seductive area of research, but sadly my charaters are ducking and diving in the East End of London - though, take away the palm trees and champagne, there might not be such a leap of imagination...