Michael Pye, author of The Edge of the World, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Michael Pye

author of The Edge of the World

Ten Terrifying Questions
____________

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

Born Manchester in England which my parents always said was an oversight, but they never explained if they meant the place or the birth. Grew up on the edge of the North Sea – in Essex in Eastern England – along those shingle beaches and salt marshes, always wondering what lay beyond and what kind of history the sea could have. After that, got myself to Italy to study and then to Oxford so I could learn how to find and write the history …

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

Always wanted to write, but for a while that meant journalism and not much more. Started a tiny local paper when I was twelve, but it didn’t sell in more than two houses (mine, and my co-editor’s parents. We took the price in butterscotch.) At eighteen wanted to get out and get away like anyone of eighteen. At thirty, I’d been very lucky – worked on the Sunday Times in London when it was a great paper in its prime, had a TV show in Scotland – but I felt somehow bored. I wanted to shake things up. Whether disappearing to the Caribbean was such a brilliant idea, I don’t know; it’s not so much fun in a tax haven if you don’t have an income…

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

Author: Michael Pye

I could be stupidly arrogant, idiotically sure about things, and I didn’t know enough and I hadn’t done enough for that faith to be justified for a moment. Actually, at times, I was a prig. I think I’ve got a bit better. Living in a small Portuguese village, as we do now, teaches you enormous respect for the people you didn’t want to notice at eighteen.

4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

I guess I’d choose circumstances more than events – the way the family spread out over the globe so the letters and the Christmas cards were all clues to the big world out there and how it connects.

It was the world my father always wanted to know, and did for a while – but during the war. My first job on a newspaper, for The Scotsman in Edinburgh and realising quite how close and how different even the various parts of the United Kingdom could be; it seemed natural to be an English Scottish Nationalist because otherwise you risked losing so much. And finding the novels of Marguerite Yourcenar, Madame, who gives history blood and bone and still dignifies it: a past that matters, but still breathes. It made me think about ways to write history that weren’t academic but weren’t trivial, either: ways to persuade people into a subject that might never have crossed their minds.

5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? Aren’t they obsolete?

Books are glorious – when they’re not pointless. You try sustaining an argument about a thousand years of history on a blog, at two hundred words a day. Online newspapers are terrific but not when you want to immerse yourself in a subject; too busy, too many videos and weird ads. It’s really hard to make jokes on TV when you’re scheduled to be serious; you have to keep looking into camera with a straight face.  You have to simplify a subject for radio, or else a show would last a week, but sometimes you really need the detail. Books give you what you need, and more. But books are doors that can open into another world, can give you facts and wit: a bit magic….

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

It started with ignorance. I didn’t know the history of the North Sea, my sea, but I knew about the Mediterranean which was far away. I didn’t know what happened between the fall of the Roman empire and the start of the great empires that crossed oceans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. So I set out to find out, and I kept being surprised.

All those bloody Icelandic sagas, and there was the start of fashion – thugs on the dockside comparing latest clothes before having a proper blood feud. The league of towns round the Baltic that set itself up as a kind of business community – just like we talk about politics and a business community – and tried to starve a nation. The way women made choices and kept the lives they chose. It’s wonderful moment when a subject becomes three, even four dimensional. I set out to write about the peoples around the North Sea and all their surprising connections – from Viking Dublin to Frisia, from Antwerp to Bergen in Norway – and I found I was writing about the changes that made possible our modern world.

Grab a copy of Michael’s new book The Edge of the World here

7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?

We stuff history with wars and kings and clashes. We forget the connections, and the energy that comes from connections – friction, sometimes. I’d love people to value the differences round the edges, the history of contacts, people going about the sea to buy and sell and go on pilgrimages because that’s what truly changes the world —  just as much as the history of the flags and armies that tend to separate us.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

Nelson Mandela, for knowing how to change his mind without changing his morals. A movie-maker called Michael Powell for allowing himself to be inspired even when nobody quite understood what he was doing; and then cutting the result into movies everyone wanted to see. And one man from my book – a bad-tempered, rough-edged medieval bishop called Robert Grosseteste (which means big head) who thought for himself and kept thinking until he’d invented a kind of experimental science because he wanted to know how a rainbow has colours. I revere people who manage to be themselves, whatever happens.

9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

The next book: just that. 

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Write. It’s a craft you learn by doing. Do it often, do it on blogs, in notebooks, in letters, in newspapers: but do it. And when people say you should write what you know, and you do need to know enough to have your own vision, remember that doesn’t have to be just your own life and times.  You can also open up the world you know by the right kind of research, and then you can write so much more…

Michael, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of The Edge of the World here


The Edge of the World

by Michael Pye

This is a story of saints and spies, of fishermen and pirates, traders and marauders – and of how their wild and daring journeys across the North Sea built the world we know.

When the Roman Empire retreated, northern Europe was a barbarian outpost at the very edge of everything. A thousand years later, it was the heart of global empires and the home of science, art, enlightenment and money. We owe this transformation to the tides and storms of the North Sea.

The water was dangerous, but it was far easier than struggling over land; so it was the sea that brought people together. Boats carried food and raw materials, but also new ideas and information. The seafarers raided, ruined and killed, but they also settled and coupled. With them they brought new tastes and technologies – books, clothes, manners, paintings and machines.

In this dazzling historical adventure, we return to a time that is largely forgotten and watch as the modern world is born. We see the spread of money and how it paved the way for science. We see how plague terrorised even the rich and transformed daily life for the poor. We watch as the climate changed and coastlines shifted, people adapted and towns flourished. We see the arrival of the first politicians, artists, lawyers: citizens.

From Viking raiders to Mongol hordes, Frisian fishermen to Hanseatic hustlers, travelling as far west as America and as far east as Byzantium, we see how the life and traffic of the seas changed everything.

Drawing on an astonishing breadth of learning and packed with human stories and revelations, this is the epic drama of how we came to be who we are.

About the Author

Michael Pye writes for a living — as novelist, journalist, historian and sometimes broadcaster. He is English by birth, but civilized by study in Italy and a newspaper apprenticeship in Scotland. For twenty years he commuted between New York and Europe as a political and cultural columnist for British newspapers. He now lives with his partner John Holm in a tiny village in the forests of rural Portugal.

 Grab a copy of The Edge of the World here

Darragh McManus, author of Shiver the Whole Night Through, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

shiver-the-whole-night-throughThe Booktopia Book Guru asks

Darragh McManus
author of
Shiver The Whole Night Through

Ten Terrifying Questions
____________

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born and reared in Ireland. A little village in County Tipperary, which is in the South-Midwest, if you can follow that. School, hmm…loved primary, hated the first three years of secondary. It wasn’t the school’s fault, they were fine. I just hated pretty much all the kids! Including myself, probably. I grew up a bit and enjoyed the final two years though. Then I went to college in Cork for an Arts degree in English Lit and History. I’ve also done a certificate in Art & Design, and of course have learned some lasting lessons in both the School of Hard Knocks and the University of Life.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

Twelve: either play soccer for Liverpool or be some kind of intergalactic bounty hunter with cool blue skin and bluer eyeballs, toting a crossbow that fired lasers. This was because I read a LOT of comics at the time, mostly Roy of the Rovers and Champ (hence the soccer) and Eagle (hence the daft sci-fi).

Eighteen: probably to have my own grunge band. I’d moved onto an obsession with grunge by that stage. I still love those bands, the image, the sarcasm, the plaid shirts, everything about them – good guys who rocked like all-get-out. Sadly, I was too lazy to bother learning guitar…the dream withered and died.

Thirty: a writer! I’d decided in my late twenties that, yes, I definitively wanted to be an author; I finished my first novel at 29 and the future seemed – potentially? – bright. Didn’t quite go according to plan. That book and my next one (collection of stories) failed to sell. Finally, I was published in non-fiction at 34. And in 2012, a lifetime ambition was realised when AT LAST I had a novel released. Shiver the Whole Night Through is my third published work of fiction (though first Young Adult).

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That communism was both possible and desirable. I think most people, as they get older, move to a more meritocratic philosophy i.e. you should get out pretty much what you put in. (Obviously, this doesn’t mean not looking after those who need it – that’s just basic decency and kindness.) But my desire for a totally evened-out society is gone; I don’t think it’s remotely feasible anyway, even if it was a good idea. Maybe after another 10,000 years of human evolution. Funnily enough, not every youthful passion fades away; for instance, I’m probably more and more of an ardent feminist with each passing year.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc. – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

It’s not a work of art, as such, more a movement – but the aforementioned grunge music has been a seminal influence on me personally and my writing. I did a crime novel, Even Flow, which was basically the grunge ethos in vigilante form. Shiver the Whole Night Through takes its title and much of its tone from Nirvana (and Kurt is mentioned in the first paragraph). Another book, unpublished, called Pretend We’re Dead, is about a bunch of slackers whose lives and thoughts were profoundly shaped by grunge. As I said, I love everything about it: artistically, intellectually, emotionally, socially…maybe even metaphysically, who knows.

FEA_2014-01-29_LIF_044_30297410_I1Twin Peaks was also huge. In fact Shiver was, to some extent, my attempt at writing an Irish version of the great David Lynch drama. Murder mystery, small-town weirdness, supernatural elements, love story…and of course, the forest. It’s a character in its own right, in the show and book. Just that sustained mood of dread and reverie that Lynch evokes…man, it’s stayed with me for decades.

Finally, I’d like to pick a book but there are just so many… I’ll go for Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, one of my very-favourite novels. (Incidentally, I consider it a great work of YA literature too: the core story is about a lad of 14 and his fraught journey to some kind of emotional maturity and adult responsibility.) I was blown away the first time I read it, especially by the language Burgess invented for his narrator: English-Russian-Cockney-Gypsy and who knew what else. It really showed me the limitless possibilities of fiction. Great, great book. Real horrorshow, oh my droogies…

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

God – good question! I should have been a musician or painter or movie director or one of those lunatics who mutilates their own body and videos the whole thing and runs the video in a gallery and… Probably I write because A) I’m reasonably good at it, B) I love reading anyway so why not read my own stuff, C) as I say, I was too lazy to learn an instrument, D) I’m colour-blind so visual art is out and E) films cost billions to make and I’m way too neurotic myself to be dealing with tantrums and egos of actors.

6. Please tell us about your novel, Shiver The Whole Night Through.

It’s a YA mystery – sort of a noir-style detective story, with paranormal/horror elements, set in a small Irish town. The basic plot is: after months of bullying and romantic heartbreak, seventeen-year-old Aidan Flood feels just about ready to end it all. But when he wakes up one morning to find that town sweetheart Sláine McAuley actually has, he discovers a new sense of purpose, and becomes determined to find out what happened. One night Aidan gets a message, scratched in ice on his bedroom window: ‘I didn’t kill myself.’ Who is contacting him? And if Sláine didn’t end her own life…who did? Now Aidan must hunt down Sláine’s killers, and unravel the darker secrets surrounding the town. And he’s about to find out that in matters of life and death, salvation often comes in the unlikeliest of forms…

shiver-the-whole-night-throughNeedless to say, it’s great! Seriously, the reviews so far are very positive, and Shiver is on the (UK) Daily Telegraph’s Best YA 2014 list. Think Twin Peaks meets Twilight meets Let the Right One In meets the teen-detective movie Brick meets old Gothic horror stories. Or don’t think that at all, and just go into it blind.

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

This one specifically, a feeling that they’ve been thrilled, chilled, moved and entertained. For all the things we may say about our books, first and foremost you want to entertain the reader. Beneath that, I hope they get a sense of empathy and sympathy for bullying victims; it’s the scourge of society and always has been. Nothing worse than a bully. I hope they debate some of the themes with their friends e.g. is revenge ever justified? And I hope they’d have become as fond of Aidan, Sláine and Podsy as I am.

In general, I’d like to think people will put down one of my books and – whether they loved it or liked it or were indifferent or worse – at least they’d think it was authentic, distinctive, made with care and sincerity. I hope they’d think, “This guy’s writing isn’t like anyone else’s.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

Oh wow, so many. Anthony Burgess, again: the man was just the most incredible virtuoso. Could write anything, any style and any genre, better than virtually anyone else. Jorge Luis Borges, because his ideas and technique were so unusual that he was almost an art-form unto himself. Margaret Atwood for being so witty and clever and making it look so easy. George Orwell for writing 1984, probably the greatest book I’ve ever read. Don DeLillo, for having the most unique literary voice I’ve ever read, and for somehow expressing the inexpressible in our existence, and illuminating the deep mysteries of it all… I’d better stop now or I really will keep going and going, possibly forever.

 9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

To write and publish a sequel to Shiver the Whole Night Through. To write and publish the several other ideas for YA novels that I’ve begun sketching out, plotting, pottering about with. To have my first novel and short-story collection published. To have that slacker novel published (dude). To write lots of screenplays and get filthy rich in Hollywood. To win an Oscar for one of them…and then refuse the Oscar. Ha!

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Everyone says this, but…read. Read, read, read. Not the internet or magazines; read books. All sorts of books, with a good smattering of classics. That can mean anything from Homer to Dickens to Graham Greene – whatever. Just something outside your comfort zone, outside your normal realm of thinking/reading (and they are, in a sense, two sides of the same coin). Something that stretches your mind. Read. Keep reading. Then start writing, but keep reading. Don’t ever stop reading! I cannot stress this enough!

Darragh, Thank you for playing.

Peter Swanson, author of The Kind Worth Killing, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Peter Swanson

author of The Kind Worth Killing & The Girl with a Clock Heart for a Heart

Ten Terrifying Questions
____________

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Carlisle, a farming town in Massachusetts, although it’s not much of a farming town anymore. It was a great childhood, one in which I had a lot of freedom and a lot of outdoors to explore. I went to public schools, and then to college in Connecticut. I now live in Massachusetts, which means that I’ve spent almost my entire life in New England. I guess I was lucky enough that I was born in a place that I love.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

This is boring, I know, but I wanted to be a writer, a writer, and a writer, although at twelve I wanted to be a writer/adventurer, kind of an Ernest Hemingway figure. Best-selling books and African safaris. At eighteen I wanted to be Martin Amis, sleeping and boozing my way around some city. Oh, and also with the best-selling books. Then at thirty, I’d have settled for making any kind of money whatsoever from writing. A small paycheck and one reader would have made me very happy.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

Author: Peter Swanson

Sticking with the theme of being a writer, I think I had the very mistaken belief that part of being a writer is developing a writer’s personality. Drinking scotch, smoking unfiltered cigarettes, acting like a jerk, when, in reality, becoming a writer is only about doing the writing.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

Number one would be the films of Alfred Hitchcock. I’ve been obsessed with his movies since I was about ten years old. He just made so many terrific, and unique, thrillers, really pushing the art form. Number two would be the early novels of Robert Parker, who wrote the Spenser series of detective thrillers. Again, I read these when I was young, and they were my entryway into the world of thriller novels. Third would be John D. MacDonald, another American thriller writer. He wrote the Travis McGee series of books in the 1960s through the early 1980s. He was a brilliant writer who also knew how to plot a really exciting thriller. Not easy to do.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

Trust me, there were very few artistic avenues open to me. Can’t sing, can’t act, can’t paint. I’d love to be able to do any of those things well, but it’s not going to happen in this lifetime.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

It’s called The Kind Worth Killing and it’s about what happens when two strangers meet in an airport bar and decide to tell each other their secrets.

(Publisher’s blurb: Delayed in London, Ted Severson meets a woman at the airport bar. Over cocktails they tell each other rather more than they should, and a dark plan is hatched – but are either of them being serious, could they actually go through with it and, if they did, what would be their chances of getting away with it?

Back in Boston, Ted’s wife Miranda is busy site managing the construction of their dream home, a beautiful house out on the Maine coastline. But what secrets is she carrying and to what lengths might she go to protect the vision she has of her deserved future?)

Grab a copy of Peter’s new novel The Kind Worth Killing here

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

I hope they take away a memory of being caught up in a thriller that made them forget about all the things we hope to forget about when we pick up a book. And I hope they think twice the next time they see someone attractive at a bar and decide to spill some secrets.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

Stephen King. He’s the only contemporary writer who I am convinced will still be read in a hundred years. He’s written so many horror classics, plus a few duds, but he keeps challenging himself, and keeps putting in the work. Also, I’ve never met him, but everything I hear makes it sounds like he’s a guy worth knowing.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

Honestly, to sell enough books so that I can keep doing this as a career. That’s about it. For a long time, my only ambition as a writer was to get one book published. That happened, and I upped my goals, so maybe I’ll up them again. A bestseller list? Sure, that would be nice.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Write every day until you finish whatever it is that you’re working on, and then go back and edit. Getting the story right is so important, and I think that happens when writers push forward, spending time every day with what they’re working on.

Peter, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of The Kind Worth Killing here


The Kind Worth Killing

by Peter Swanson

‘Hello there.’

I looked at the pale, freckled hand on the back of the empty bar seat next to me in the business class lounge of Heathrow airport, then up into the stranger’s face.

‘Do I know you?’

Delayed in London, Ted Severson meets a woman at the airport bar. Over cocktails they tell each other rather more than they should, and a dark plan is hatched – but are either of them being serious, could they actually go through with it and, if they did, what would be their chances of getting away with it?

Back in Boston, Ted’s wife Miranda is busy site managing the construction of their dream home, a beautiful house out on the Maine coastline. But what secrets is she carrying and to what lengths might she go to protect the vision she has of her deserved future?

A sublimely plotted novel of trust and betrayal, The Kind Worth Killing will keep you gripped and guessing late into the night.

About the Author

Peter Swanson’s debut novel, The Girl With a Clock for a Heart, was described by Dennis Lehane as ‘a twisty, sexy, electric thrill ride’ and in the Observer as ‘very hard not to read in one sitting’. He lives with his wife and cat in Somerville, Massachusetts.

 Grab a copy of The Kind Worth Killing here

Scott Blackwood, author of See How Small, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Scott Blackwood

author of See How Small

Ten Terrifying Questions
____________

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in the state of Arkasas, in the same small town, El Dorado, where Charles Portis, who wrote True Grit and a number of other great books, was born. My family moved around quite a bit. Memphis, Tennessee, Oklahoma. But I lived much of my life in Texas—first the Dallas area and later Austin, where I found a real home. I remember thinking that I’d been looking for this place all along, where it was okay to be a little different, to even aspire to be a writer or musician. I’m not sure it would have happened had I not moved there to go to school at the University of Texas in the mid-eighties. It was liberating to be around other people who’d take chances and pursue things that weren’t at all lucrative or safe. People who were willing to pursue an improvisational life, of sorts. That was very new to me and had a profound effect, even if my talents hadn’t really sufaced yet.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

When I was nine, I read a lot of Marvel Comics and suspected I had super powers that simply hadn’t surfaced yet—incredible reflexes, strength, eyesight, something. I was waiting patiently. So I practiced super heroing in the woods, beating on old tires, swinging on ropes. Just readying myself to defend suburban Dallas,Texas from petty criminals.

But by the time I was twelve, it occurred to me that girls would think I was even stranger than I was if I kept this thing up. So I became fixated, instead, on being a professional baseball player (more socially acceptable yet equally as far fetched).

Finally, in college, having failed at those things, I turned to something maybe even more impractical, writing fiction. I wasn’t very good at it at first. But being a glutton for punishment, I kept at it until it would have me.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

Author: Scott Blackwood

Love conquers all.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

Works of fiction—Hemingway’s stories from In Our Time, Alice Munro’s The Progress of Love and Raymond Carver’s Where I’m Calling From and years later One Hundred Years of Solitude, Moby Dick, Light In August, Marilynnn Robinson’s Housekeeping.

Music—I listened to a lot of traditional Texas music and innovative music when I was in Austin in the 80s and early 90s, inspiring stuff mostly made by people roughly my own age.  Film—Richard Linklater’s first film, Slacker, which was set in Austin, Wim Wender’s Paris, Texas, Wings of Desire. Jarmusch’s early films.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

To be honest, I don’t think I had numerous avenues—it’s the rare person who has multiple talents. I grew into a novelist because I fooled myself long enough, incrementally enough, about my abilities, so that my confidence grew proportional to the task. The novel form intimidated me for the longest time—it seemed so unwieldy. I struggled at first because I thought a novel in stories was the same thing, that I could stay in my comfort zone but then I hit a wall. I realized a novel is about rhythms (because we are about rhythms too), and what affects us as readers are the rhythms of  interweaving story threads. And the weave gets tighter and tighter and vibrates more and more.

I once heard the Kentucky writer James Still describe, when he was a boy, hearing this wonderful music from a basement window that he thought was Bach but but when he looked through the window, it was coming from a giant mechanical loom. It’s archaic but it still works as metaphor because we think in story threads, through lines. So when I figured out  how this great weave works—and could see this overlaying, hear the rhythms of all that coming together in other people’s novels—I was finally able to take what I was doing in the shorter form  for a larger cumulative effect, a momentous push, a thrumming rhythm, as in a novel. It was a revelation to me.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

It’s a heartbreaker, I think, this book, See How Small. But I mean this in the best way. It’s about the aftermath of the brutal murder of three teenage girls in an Austin, Texas ice cream shop— the deep sense of loss but also the ways we make emotional sense of that loss, to transend it. How evil acts—atrocities—can strip us of this sense-making if we allow them to. These kinds of random acts are more with us now than ever—for instance, the Newtown massacre two years ago at the school in New York—and hit at the heart of who we are and want to be. My characters struggle against this, try to tell their own stories in the face of it, including the girls themselves, whose stories have been taken from them by the killers and even inadvertently by the community itself, which now only remember them as victims. I should say that See How Small was inspired by an actual murder in 1991 in Austin, Texas that remains unsolved, a crime I’ve been haunted by for many years. 

Grab a copy of Scott’s new novel See How Small here

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

I want them to be changed by it, to feel, a sense of wonder about things, about life, and a sense of terror, too, at times. That all of this together—wonder and terror—is in the world and that’s as it should be, as it’s always been. It’s not a comfort book but I do think it’s a book that celebrates life and its mystery, which is intimately tied to loss and death.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

My favourite living writer is Denis Johnson. If you haven’t read it, I can’t tell you how great a book like Train Dreams is. He gives us so little—the book isn’t much more than a 100 pages—yet the whole world’s inside it. It reaches back, as E.M. Forster said about truly great books.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

To link all of my work together as Faulkner tried to do so that they are parts of one great weave. And like every writer worth his or her salt, I’d like my writing to have some kind of half-life. Somewhere in his amazing (and very long) novel 2666, the Chilean writer Roberto Bolano has one of his characters say that we forget sometimes that really great works are not easy, not symmetrical, that they even fight their authors. It’s always the heavyweight bouts that bring back the news from that other world. The writing that readers will to turn to again and again. Moby Dick, say, or A Hundred Years of Solitude. The rest are only sparring.  

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Well, one of the accidental advantages I had as a young writer was having children early: When I was 25. I had to make all my writerly choices count because there really couldn’t be any backtracking—there was no time for that. So I began to think about how all my work could fit together, how characters, if they were interesting enough, might be brought back in another work, broaden the scope of what I was trying to do. How a sense of place fits into this. How I was always writing out of the same themes—what separates us also draws us together. It only occurred to me later that this is how to create a fictional universe that resonates, make the sum worth more than its parts. This is a writer’s vision and it’s at least as important as talent. Maybe more so.

There are a lot of talented writers out there. But if you know where you are, what you’re working towards, how to fit it together, then no matter what happens around you—the publishing world in flux, personal setbacks—you’re still connected to your life’s work, which for me was trying to make something beautiful and lasting. In other words, don’t chase after the market, “what’s selling,” because that’s totally ephemeral. Ask maybe instead: if someone had a gun to my head, what would I write? The gun to all of our heads is time, of course. And there’s always less of it than you think.

Scott, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of See How Small


See How Small

by Scott Blackwood

Virgin Suicides meets Lovely Bones.

It begins one summer evening in a small Texas town. Two men walk into an ice cream shop shortly before it closes. They bind the three teenager girls working behind the counter. They set fire to the shop. They disappear. This horrific, mysterious crime is the subject of Scott Blackwood’s new novel.

Loosely based on the 1991 Yogurt Shop Murders in Austin, Texas, See How Small explores a community’s reactions to the brutal and seemingly random murder of these three girls. It is told through the perspectives of the community’s survivors, witnesses, suspects, and yes, the deceased girls. Among the people we meet is Jack Dewey, the fireman who ran into the burning building and discovered the girls’ bodies, and whose life becomes haunted by the girls’ memory. We see Kate Ulrich, the mother of two murdered girls, who finds that in fighting the community’s need to narrate her life in light of the murders, she’s also losing her connection to the girls’ lives. A suspect in the murders, Michael Greer, now with a daughter of his own, is haunted by his inadvertent participation in it and his brother’s earlier tragic death. And Rosa Heller, an investigative journalist who tries to piece together the mystery by interviewing involved people, becomes lost in the community’s false memories and lies and regrets. Above everything else is the girls’ shared narration as they watch over the community during the five years following their deaths, as they attempt to comfort their town.

See How Small will remind readers of the paradoxical promises of security and belonging, remembering and forgetting, and our collective need to both obscure and name evil. It is a short, powerful novel.

About the Author

Scott Blackwood is the author of three books of fiction, including the forthcoming novel See How Small. Blackwood was a 2011 Whiting Writers’ Award recipient and his first novel, We Agreed to Meet Just Here, set in the Deep Eddy Neighborhood of Austin, Texas, won the AWP Prize for the Novel, Texas Institute of Letters Award for best work of fiction, and was a finalist for the PEN USA Award. His first book was the award-winning story collection, In the Shadows of Our House, published in 2001.

 Grab a copy of See How Small

Sally Murphy, author of Roses are Blue, answers Ten Terrifying Questions.

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Sally Murphy

author of Roses are Blue, Pearl Versus the World and more…

Ten Terrifying Questions
____________

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born and raised in Western Australia, spending most of my childhood in the Southwest town of Collie. I spent my last two years of schooling at boarding school in Perth, which I hated at the time, because I was terribly homesick, but where I had some wonderful moments in the library, which was my salvation.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be an author. When I was twelve, my plan was to write kids’ books. How wonderful it would be to write books that other people loved as much as the one I was reading. In the school holidays I wrote novels, stories and poems on an old typewriter, some of which I still have.

By the time I was 18 I’d realised that I might need another job apart from being an author, though that was still my dream. So I thought I’d become a journalist, because that would enable to me to make a living from writing.

When I was 30 I was a full time mum also pursuing my writing dreams. By then I’d had my first educational books published, but I was yet to have my first trade title published, so was desperately trying to figure out how and why.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

Author: Sally Murphy

I am ashamed to admit that I remember proudly proclaiming that I was not a feminist. I had been fed the crock that feminism was a dirty word and not the same thing as believing women had the right to be equal. Instead, feminists were radical, man-hating and doing women a disservice.

Gosh how naïve I was, and how sad I am that there are still women who think feminism is something negative.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

While I love music and art, for me the biggest impact by far has been from books. Not surprisingly, because I write for children, the biggest impact has come from books for young people. There was a book called Mandy, by Julie Andrews Edwards (who, I later realised, was THE Julie Andrews), which I read when I was quite young and absolutely adored. It’s the first novel I remember reading and loving so much that I wished I’d written it. So, as a 7 year old, I wrote my own version of this story, which I called Tereasa. I still have my own version, and a few years ago tracked down a copy of Mandy.

Even before Mandy, I absolutely adored Horton Hatches an Egg, a Dr Seuss story, and knew it by heart. Later it was one of the first books I tracked down for my first child. I loved the playfulness and rhythm, but I think the sense of justice also appealed to me. As a writer, I want children and adults alike to smile when they read my work, even when I’m addressing really serious issues.

Like many many readers To Kill a Mockingbird is a book which moved me incredibly. Again, there is that sense of justice and wisdom as well as wonderful character development and weaving of a powerful story. The fact that it also gets better on rereading is also a testament to the quality of the writing. I studied it several times at school, taught it as a teacher, and yet have never tired of it. As a writer I want to create books which do those things: entertain and move people, stay with them, and also inspire them to read and reread.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

Writing is my thing. The other arts have never captured me in the same way as writing, which I’ve been doing since before I could actually form legible words.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

Roses are Blue is a verse novel about a young girl coping with the fallout of her mother’s terrible car accident. Everything in Amber’s life has changed, but nothing so much as her mother, who has been left badly disabled.  Whilst this sounds pretty grim, the aim of the story is to show that even in such a terrible set of circumstances there can be hope, and means of coping.

Grab a copy of Sally’s latest novel Roses are Blue here

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

Hope. I want readers, of whatever age, to see that although life can throw pretty big curveballs, there is always hope. My verse novels often move people to tears, but I want them to smile, too.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

Glenda Millard. She is an Australian writer of the most amazingly moving and uplifting children’s books. Her talent is amazing, and she’s a lovely person, warm and generous. When I grow up, I want to be Glenda.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

Gosh. Ambitious goals? Now the pressure’s on! I just want to always keep improving. I want to make my writing better and better and keep surprising myself with new things to try. Of course, stemming from this, I want to keep finding readers enjoy my work.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Love what you do. Write the stuff you love to read, be true to yourself and have fun. Also, though, don’t expect it to be easy. You will be rejected and, when you’re accepted, editors will make you change stuff, reviewers won’t always like your work and your sales are never as much as you’d like them to be. Take these things as a challenge to keep working, keep improving, rather than a sign of some terrible plot against you. Because, when you love what you are doing, and you keep doing it, then you stick at it until the magic day when you are both published AND read.

Sally, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of Roses are Blue here


Roses are Blue

by Sally Murphy

From the award-winning author of Pearl Verses the World and Toppling comes a story about resilience and the importance of family.

“I have not got used to my new mum, even though I love her (I absolutely love her), I miss my happy, painting, dancing, gardening, smiling mum.” Amber Rose and her family are dealing with tragedy and change. But sometimes hope suddenly blooms

About the Author

Sally Murphy is a mother, wife, teacher, speaker, website manager, reviewer, and, of course, author. She was born in Perth and now lives in Dalyellup, Western Australia. Her first illustrated verse novel with Walker Books Australia, Pearl Verses the World (illustrated by Heather Potter) won the children’s book category for the Indie Book of the Year awards, 2009; was awarded Honour Book in the Younger Readers category, Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards, 2010; and won the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Awards, 2010, Best Book for Language Development, Upper Primary (8-12 years). Toppling (illustrated by Rhian Nest James) has won the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards, Children’s Book – Mary Ryan’s Award, 2010 and the Children’s Book for the 2010 Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards.

 Grab a copy of Roses are Blue here

Rabia Siddique, author of Equal Justice, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Rabia Siddique

author of Equal Justice

Ten Terrifying Questions
____________

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I am a first generation Australian. My father is a Muslim Indian, my mother a British/Scottish Australian. I spent my early years in India and we immigrated to Perth in the late 1970’s. I attended a Government primary school in a fairly Anglo, post war, working class neighbourhood and was very fortunate to attend Penrhos College, a Uniting Church Private Girls school for my secondary education.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

From a young age I decided I wanted to help others obtain access to justice and find their voice, largely as a result of experiences I had as a child which gave me a strong sense of social justice and equality, so after obtain a BA and LLB from the University of WA I started my career in the law in Perth.

rabia

Author: Rabia Siddique

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

As an 18 year old I saw things in a very black and white way.  As I have got older I realise that not everything, in fact very few things are black and white, and that life is filled with many shades of grey. I have always been a tolerant person, but life and the various journey I have had has taught me to be even more accepting, compassionate and forgiving.

4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

The three most significant and influential events in my life have been experiencing first-hand; the discrimination and prejudice my father suffered as a dark skinned Muslim immigrant to what was then a very conservative Australia in the 1970’s, which gave me an early sense of equality and social justice, the powerlessness I felt as a young child of 9 after having been sexually abused my a neighbour for many months and then being told by my parents to never speak of the abuse to anyone, and the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the US, days before I commissioned as a Legal Officer in the British Army.

5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? aren’t they obsolete?

I guess you could say in some ways I am a traditionalist and I still believe there is no replacement to the experience of reading a remarkable or beautiful book.  Books are the purest and most authentic way of sharing stories, and whilst Equal Justice is also available as an eBook, I believe my story and the messages I convey were worthy of more than a newspaper article or blog.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

Equal Justice is the story about my life and my journey. It is a memoir about strength, resilience, courage and grit.  It shines a light on authentic and ethical leadership, equality and deals openly with the challenging topics of abuse, war, physical and psychological suffering and a woman excelling in a man’s world. It is a book I am very proud of and a story that has resonated with so many.

Grab a copy of  Rabia Siddique book Equal Justice here

7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?

If my work could do one thing it would be to inspire others to be agents for change – in their relationships, households, communities and workplaces.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

Mahatma Gandhi has always been my hero.  He said “Be the change you wish to see in this world” and that has been my life’s mantra and my life’s work.

9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

I have been so fortunate and blessed to have achieved and realised so many of my goals and dreams, but I continue to dedicate my life to being the best parent, partner and friend and I can be, and to doing what I can to make a difference and inspire others to also make our communities and societies more tolerant, inclusive and diverse – so we can work and live together in genuine harmony and peace. I believe in dreaming big and striving for the highest. That is something I will impart to my children and something that will always define me as a human being and citizen of the world.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

I believe nearly everyone has a story to tell. Don’t focus on the reasons not to write your stories, but ask yourself why not? Stories are the most effective way to break down barriers and connect with people. Have a focus on what you hope to achieve and make it happen. I truly believe that when you do something for the right reasons it always has a way of working out – joy and success will inevitably follow.

For writers seeking publishing deals – invest in a good literary agent!

Rabia, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of Equal Justice here


Equal Justice

by Rabia Siddique

Rabia Siddique is a woman with an extraordinary perspective. Growing up as a Muslim in the conservative and monocultural landscape of 1970s suburban Perth, she knew what it was like to be different. It gave her an abiding passion for equality and social justice that was to guide the course of her life. She trained as a lawyer, and found herself working in the UK on that fateful day in September 2001 when Islamic terrorists attacked the US.

She joined the British army in the Judge Advocates’ division as a military lawyer. She served in Iraq and was taken hostage by Islamic insurgents as she tried to negotiate the release of two kidnapped British soldiers. She battled for hours to save their lives, using her legal expertise, knowledge of Islam and Arabic to negotiate with their captors. After their release, her colleague received a Military Cross. Rabia received nothing. Her subsequent sex and race discrimination case against the British Army made headlines around the world. After leaving the army, she joined the Crown Prosecution Service as a prosecutor working on terrorism cases. Last year she returned to Perth to raise her triplet sons.

Her perspective as a feminist, a social justice crusader, a lawyer, a soldier, a former hostage, a terrorism prosecutor and a Muslim is unique, and her memoir is a story of grit, courage and conviction like no other.

 Grab a copy of Equal Justice here

Trish Morey, author of Stone Castles, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Trish Morey

author of Stone Castles, Fiancee for One Night, The Heir from Nowhere and many more…

Ten Terrifying Questions
____________

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Adelaide, South Australia, and grew up in Elizabeth, a so-called satellite city about 20 miles north before we moved and I finished my secondary education at Unley High School. Adelaide Uni and an Economics degree followed.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

When I was 12? A writer. Mostly because of reading the boxes of romances that came from my Gran’s nursing home and thinking “anyone could write this stuff”. (I was so wrong!)

When I was 18? Someone with a real job. Because writing wasn’t a real job apparently. So I became a Chartered Accountant instead.

When I was 30? Maternity leave time with my first bub, and I had the chance to step back from my career and was starting to question what I really wanted to do. It took my second bub to decide that I’d been right all along. Not that I regret for a moment the experiences I’ve had along the way, which have all fed my writerly soul (not to mention given me heaps of material – nothing is wasted, ever.)

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

Author: Trish Morey

At 18 I figured the world in black and white. I figured any intelligent person would agree with me. Now I know it’s shades of grey. (More than fifty of them.) Now I know there are more intelligent points of view than you can poke a stick at. So I try to avoid poking sticks at other intelligent people’s views (and really wish they’d keep theirs to themselves too.)

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

Little Women – I loved that opening because as a small child, the thought of Christmas without presents was appalling. I wonder if my love of great openings came from reading that book?

John Donne – Holy Sonnet X – Death, be not proud. That sonnet resonated with me as a student. It turned the power of death on its ear, as not something to be feared. That last line – Death, thou shalt die. – talk about powerful! No wonder I love strong endings too.

Homer and the Odyssey – If not for these writings and my classical studies education, I would never have developed my love of Crete and all things Mycenaean. I’ve set books in Crete and Santorini- some published, some yet to be published.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

I can’t paint, I can’t draw. I’m rubbish at singing and making music. Apart from creative accounting, telling stories was about all that was left.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

Stone Castles is a reunion story, that puts paid to all those preconceptions that you can’t go back. Because you can always go back  – but nobody says it’s not going to hurt.

Grab a copy of Trish’s new novel Stone Castles here

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

That’s it never too late. That the mistakes we make for whatever good reason don’t necessarily mean we can’t be happy.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

Every writer I know. Writing a book is hard work. Sticking at writing books and making a career out of it in these tumultuous, ever-changing publishing industry times – that takes guts.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

I guess mine are to connect with my audience, and as wide an audience as possible. But in doing so, to touch their hearts. I don’t know if that’s an ambitious goal, but it’s mine.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Write, write and write, and make sure you believe in what you write, and if you write romance fiction, or even if you don’t, join Romance Writers of Australia, because you will learn so much.

Trish, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of Stone Castles


Stone Castles

by Trish Morey

She turned her back on the girl she was. He’ll show her the woman she was meant to be.

After ten years pursuing a prestigious career in New York, Pip Martin has returned to the Yorke Peninsula to farewell her dying grandmother. She doesn’t intend to linger – there are too many memories in the small country town and not all of them will stay in the past.

Like Luke Trenorden, her childhood sweetheart. A man Pip had promised her heart to, until tragedy stole Pip’s family away, and a terrible lie tore both their lives apart.

Pip cannot deny there is still a spark between them, even amidst the heartache of losing her Gran and the demands of her new life. But it may not be enough to rekindle a love that has been neglected for so long.

When a long-kept secret is revealed, Pip is free to go back to the life she thought she wanted… unless Luke can break down the stone castle Pip has built around her heart.

About the Author

USA Today Bestselling Author, Trish Morey’s 30 titles for Mills & Boon have sold more than five million copies in more than 25 languages in 40 countries worldwide. Trish is a two-times winner of the Romance Writers of Australia’s Romantic Book of the Year Award and a 2012 Romance Writers of America RITA nominee. Trish lives in the Adelaide Hills with her husband and four teenage daughters.

 Grab a copy of Stone Castles

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