Posted in Blog Posts

Ailsa Abraham tells us about her new novel ALCHEMY

Alchemy_frontAs part of the celebrations for the launch of her new novel Alchemy, it is my great pleasure to welcome Ailsa Abraham to my blog today.

Hi, Annette. Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to strut my stuff about my latest release. It’s very kind. Here are some thoughts on the seemingly endless gestation period for this one.

There is some very good advice around for beginner novelists. One of them is “Start your novel with a bang! Hook the reader from the very first sentence.” That is exactly what I did when writing Shaman’s Drum. It dived straight into the action, referring to past history along the way but concentrating on the adventure at hand. Yes, well, great advice if the newbie novelist is writing a stand-alone work. It’s not so hot if the book ends up being part of a series, especially if it turns out to be Volume Two. Readers of Shaman’s Drum liked it but wanted to know the beginning. How did the changes come about? How can you start a story where the world has altered so completely without explaining? Easy. I’m a duffer but I can honestly say that “Alchemy” was written in response to public demand.

Alchemy – the search for the secret of turning base metal into gold. The title refers to a scientific discovery which allows the commercial conversion of methane to a cheap alternative to fossil fuels. The price of implementing this world-changing system, which works on waste products, is the abolition of the established religions. WHAT??? This exchange is designed to end war and terrorism. It explains the situation at the beginning of Shaman’s Drum where “The Changes” have been in place for some time.

 My hardest job, however, being a complete numpty where science is concerned, was the chemistry. For that I had recourse to my husband a nuclear, electronic and electrical engineer. Fortunately he knew all about alternative fuels. Writing as a prequel gave me the chance to make Alchemy a much more rounded and complete novel, introducing sub plots, parallel stories and interesting new history. Everyone wanted to know about Iamo and Riga’s early lives, how they had grown up and how they had come to fall in love in the first place, seeing as they were imprisoned for that crime at the start of Shaman’s Drum but once I got going, there was so much more to include.

Three separate couples appear in this novel, one stable and happy, one tentative and seemingly impossible and the two main characters from Shaman’s Drum who do not fall in love until the end of Alchemy. Unlike the technical bits I was OK relying on my memory for early training in shamanic and Wiccan practices having been through them myself. A long time ago, admittedly but that kind of thing stays with one. 

Dealing with demons had figured largely in Shaman’s Drum so the new story centres around their return, with the absence of organised religion to oppose them. It raises interesting philosophical questions on the purpose and nature of religions in general.

It isn’t often that an author can say that they are 100% happy with their work but, having spent nearly a year on Alchemy, I am. The cover artwork, designed by Laurence Patterson of Crooked Cat is particularly stunning. I cannot wait for the release in paperback and e-book on 31st January. Early feedback from beta-readers and that most severe of critics (the scientific husband) are very favourable so I’m dying to hear from other readers very soon.

Ailsa Abraham retired early from a string of jobs, ending up with teaching English to adults. She has lived in France for over twenty years and is married with no children but six grandchildren. Her passion is motorbikes which have taken the place of horses in her life now that ill-health prevents her riding. She copes with Bipolar Condition, a twisted spine and increasing deafness with her usual wry humour – “well if I didn’t have all those, I’d have to work for a living, instead of writing, which is much more fun.”. Her ambition in life is to keep breathing and maybe move back to the UK. She has no intention of stopping writing.

As Ailsa Abraham :

Shaman’s Drum published by Crooked Cat

(nominated for the People’s Choice Book Prize)

 Four Go Mad in Catalonia – self-published, available from Smashwords

Ailsa on Twitter

Ailsa on Facebook

Ailsa on Amazon

Ailsa’s website

Writing as Cameron Lawton 

Posted in Blog Posts, fibro

The Liebster Award: Take 2

liebster2I was first nominated for the Liebster Award two or three years ago and not only did I get loads of traffic to my blog as a result, it gave me something to write about other than my normal ranty stuff and it was fun. Thanks to the fabulous Ailsa Abraham, I’ve been nominated again and I am delighted to have another bash.

You can read Ailsa’s response to the questions she was given (and a succint definition of what the award is about) here. Below are the questions Ailsa wanted her nominees to answer and I’ve done my best to answer them. Hope this is OK, Ailsa!

What prompted you to blog in the first place?

I am a writer and inherent to being a writer is the belief one has something to say. I don’t like speaking to myself (well, not ALL the time) so blogging seemed like a good way of putting my words out there where people could read them if they wanted to. It’s a try-before-you-buy offer to readers: I hoped that if they liked my blogs, they might want to read something I had written and asked them to pay for too. How’s that working out for me? Erm…not brilliantly! I’ve sold maybe 100 copies of my short story collection ‘And The Angels Cried and other stories’ and I know I get many more hits on my blog. But now, I blog because I enjoy it. It’s a place to vent my wrath and share stories about my mum, Nancy.

How much of yourself do you share on your blog?

Too much! I am a typical blunt Weegie and if I’m not being honest, I don’t see the point. However, I don’t regret anything I’ve shared and there are loads and loads of topics I have no intention of writing about. It’s almost like therapy. Blogging has helped me to work out some issues hanging around from childhood. That can only be a good thing, right?

Are any subjects taboo for you?

This is a difficult one. In fiction, there is nothing I wouldn’t write about. One of my WIPs has a pedophile ring in it and themes of abandonment and abuse. I hope I write about it in a non-salacious, grown-up way and I offer no details about exactly what happens to the characters involved. I don’t write about controversial subjects to titillate, but to ask readers to think about subjects they might otherwise try to avoid and, perhaps, question their beliefs a little. I don’t expect them to change their way of thinking, just to think.

Personally, there are many things I won’t write about, mainly out of concern for the other people involved. Well, that and fear of being arrested, obviously.

Would you ever refuse to guest on someone else’s blog and why?

Yes. If someone else’s blog was racist/sexist/bigoted/overly self-promotional/hurtful etc, I wouldn’t consider writing for them. There are also some people who, while not offensive as such, seem to have a life philosophy so different to mine I wouldn’t want to be associated with them, not matter how successful they were. Otherwise, I love to guest on other people’s blogs and I am happy to extend mine to other people too.

How would you like to think your readers see your blog?

Because I am so honest about what I write about, I hope that readers see my blog as down to earth, interesting, thought-provoking and, above all else, fun! I love to make people laugh, even about serious topics.

Which of your qualities do you think comes out most in your posts?

Oh dear, I hope it’s honesty and fun, but I fear that I may come across as arrogant, argumentative and opinionated.

Is there anything you dislike about blogging?

My self-imposed filters! There are many things I think, write and then delete for a variety of reasons. I also dislike the ‘fibro fog’ which makes stringing a coherent sentence together at times. Today is one of those times but I know if I don’t write this now, I never will. Apologies for clunky prose and repetitions.

Do you visualise books in your head while reading them? In other words, are you watching your own movie of the book?

Yes! Every time! Isn’t this why we find films made from books so disappointing? The director so seldom shares out vision. I do the same when writing too. I am a very visual person.

What is your most passionate cause or belief?

Live and let live. I think if we all held to this belief we’d be better off as a species. What does it matter if someone is black/white/Christian/Atheist/Old/young/fat/thin/gay/straight… Instead of looking for our differences we should be looking for all the things that makes us similar. There’s a good old Scottish saying. “We’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns.” Basically, it means each man in your brother, each woman your sister.

What draws you to other people’s blogs?

I like a blog where I am either instructed or entertained or, in the best of all possible worlds, instructed AND entertained.

Phew! Now I have to set some questions for my nominees to answer.

  1. When you were 10 years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
  2. In the movie of your life, who would play you and why?
  3. Which book to you wish you had written?
  4. You have three wishes to give to someone else. Who would you give the wishes to and what would you want them to wish for?
  5. What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you? That you’re willing to share.
  6. What advice would you give to your 16 year old self?

My nominees are as follows:

  • Lizzie Lamb, author of Tall, Dark and Kilted and Boot Camp Bride
  • Tracy Kuhn, talented writer and lovely lady
  • Roisin Meaney, best-selling Irish novelist.
  • Gary Parkin, AKA Mr Uku because he hates doing these things so much and I live to torture him.

Anyone else who reads this and fancies having a go, please be my guest! The rules are that you answer my questions, link back to my site (good SEO there) and pass the baton on to some other good folk.

What are you waiting for? Get on with it!

Posted in Blog Posts, Book Reviews

An Interview with Laurence MacNaughton

Following my review of Conspiracy of Angels yesterday, I was lucky enough to secure an interview with the talented Mr. MacNaughton himself. I hope you enjoy it and if you read on to the bottom you’ll find out how you can win a digital copy of Conspiracy of Angels for yourself.

Hi Laurence! Can you share your journey from writing to publication with us?
A: Well, I had wanted to write this book for years. I was obsessed with the idea of an ex-con trying to track down his daughter’s killer, only to discover that her killer isn’t human. Deep down, it’s a story about loss and redemption, and I think it resonates with so many readers because we’ve all lost someone and struggled to come to terms with that. That struggle is what makes us human. And if you can show that in between all of the chases and escapes, you create a story that really grabs people’s attention.

I collected a ton of rejection slips before I found a literary agent who had the vision to see Conspiracy of Angels through to publication. But she asked me to consider changing some big things: deleting scenes, deepening the mythology, adding a new character arc and so on. She even suggested un-killing a character.

I’d already written several drafts of the book, and the idea of completely overhauling it was daunting. But the more we talked about it, the more she encouraged me to think bigger, to feel more deeply and to scrutinize the story from every angle. As I rewrote the book, my bad guys became more sympathetic, my good guys became more flawed and my story became more meaningful. It transformed from a monster story into a personal quest for justice set against the threat of the end of the world.

Every part of the publishing process was like that: multiple steps and refinements until we reached something smooth and polished. For the cover art, we went through 12 different concepts before we arrived at this one. It’s been an amazing and enormously positive experience. And a lot of work!

Q: And where did the spark for Conspiracy of Angels come from?

A: Before I became a full-time writer, I had a day job test-driving prototype vehicles. Trucks, luxury cars, experimental hybrids, you name it. We covered them in black padding to disguise their body contours, then wired them up with sensors to track everything from how many hours the headlights lasted to how much vibration we got when we slammed the door. I drove them through areas of Denver that few people ever dare to visit: abandoned factory buildings, mud-choked construction sites, railroad yards covered in graffiti. By the end of the day, my mind was a labyrinth of dark and dirty places, populated by the odd people I’d sometimes see there. So I wrote stories about them.

Q: I liked your take on the Archangel. Where did you get your inspiration from for this character?

A: Late one night, as I was reading through a stack of science magazines, I came across an article about near-death experiences. That was still on my mind when I read another article about life forms that exist in extreme environments, like deep in the Earth’s crust or encapsulated inside salt deposits. And I thought: if some form of life existed outside our understanding of the boundary of death, what would it be like? And that chilling thought became the Archangel.

Q: I loved that Mitch was an ‘everyman’ character with whom it was so easy to identify. Did you consciously set out to create this type of hero?

A: I once had a neighbor who mowed his lawn in his bathrobe. I look for oddball moments like that, human moments I can put into my stories. Mitch loves to barbecue, he has a garage full of junk, he has a troubled relationship with his brother. He’s a next-door kind of guy. That helps the story feel “real” when we start seeing car chases and gunfights. And when the hero is chasing somebody in his bathrobe, it’s also funny.

Q: I found it refreshing to read a thriller where the main relationship between the characters was not sexual. Was this important to you as you wrote the book?

A: It was crucial. Whenever we see two characters in a story, I think it’s natural that we expect them to get together romantically. So I deliberately set out to upend those expectations. Mitch and Geneva are both tough on the outside and incredibly wounded on the inside. He’s lost his daughter, and she’s lost her parents. He’s just out of prison; she just found out her boyfriend might be a cold-blooded killer. They’re both outcasts, alone against the world.

I don’t want to spoil the story, but Geneva gets to a point where she’s lost so much from her life that she shuts down, and we’re not sure if she can ever come back from that. But Mitch is there for her, and that begins the healing process for both of them. That’s not easy to pull off in a scary thriller like this, but I hope it makes the story feel so much more meaningful.

Q: Laurence, are you a planner or a pantser?

A: It’s funny, my agent forbids me from plotting things out! She insists that my most creative storytelling emerges when I write without a safety net, and she’s probably right. But I’ve left too many novels unfinished to start a new one without some idea of how I’m going to end it. So I secretly plan it out beforehand, to make sure everything works logically. Then I put away the outline and write it all from the heart, beginning to end, so that it flows emotionally. After that, when I do revisions, it’s a balancing act, going back and forth, left-brain and right-brain, until the book achieves a natural equilibrium.

Q: What is your writing routine?

A: My wife is a professional artist, and her studio is next door to my office. We go off into our separate creative spaces to work. Using the buddy system like this is possibly the single biggest factor in my success, because we push each other to keep working. Plus, she’s my biggest fan.

Q: Which book do you wish you had written?

A: When I was twelve years old, I discovered the Orbit series of science fiction anthologies edited by Damon Knight. They forever changed the way I thought about stories. At the time, of course, I didn’t really understand that these were edgy, New Wave stories from the psychedelic 1960s, and they were fairly mind-bending even for adults. But I grew up wanting to write those kinds of stories. Weird, wonderful, but most of all, exciting.

Q: Would you mind describing your writing space for us?

A: It’s jam-packed. Stacked floor to ceiling with books on the strangest subjects, from carburetor tuning to near-death experiences. I keep several very old typewriters on and under my desk. And I actually use them on occasion, but I do the bulk of my writing on an AlphaSmart Neo, possibly the toughest and best word processor ever built. Any remaining wall space between the bookshelves is covered with cork boards, where I pin ranks of index cards as I plan out my stories. It’s a battleground between creativity and utter chaos.

Q: Do you believe in angels?

A: At heart, I’m an unshakably scientific person, but at the same time I’ve felt and seen things that I’ve never been able to explain rationally. I blame my weird childhood. My parents had engineering backgrounds, yet I grew up surrounded by deep forest. I was a choir boy at our church, which had been built before the American Revolution. You can’t grow up surrounded by that much science, nature, history and religion without incorporating it into who you are. I suppose Conspiracy of Angels is my way of exploring the intersection between science and spirituality. And also have some kick-butt car chases, because hey, I’m an author and I can do that.

Q: Finally, which three pieces of advice would you give to aspiring authors?

A: 1) Just write, and don’t stop. Every page you write makes you a better writer. Before the Beatles ever set foot in a recording studio, they played eight-hour gigs for weeks at a stretch. Similarly, nearly every published author has spent an inordinate amount of time honing his or her craft before getting published. I’ve literally worn the letters off of my keyboards. If you want to get published, you need to put in thousands of hours of work. There’s no way around it.

2) Take responsibility. No matter what the economy is doing, what your childhood was like or how hectic your schedule is today, it honestly can’t stop you if you’re sufficiently determined. If you want to be a writer, you alone have the power to make that happen. If you want to write a book, make it a priority. You won’t “find” the time. You have to carve it out of your schedule any way you can.

3) Never stop learning. Plenty of aspiring writers ask me for advice on how to fix their stories. I post some of my answers on my writing blog, But I’ll be honest: most people aren’t willing to put in the work, and they just keep making the same old mistakes. So if things haven’t worked so far, try something new! The knowledge is out there. You can find the know-how, you can build the skill, and you can make the time to write your book. It’s possible. Conspiracy of Angels is proof!

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Laurence.

Now, if you’d like a chance to win a digital copy of this fine book for yourself, please leave a comment on this post and include your twitter handle (if you have one). I’ll be picking a winner at random on 31st July. GOOD LUCK!

You can access the author’s website here, and his blog is here.

Book Trailer for Conspiracy of Angels