Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Exclusive Interview with Daniel Clay

I'm delighted to welcome Daniel Clay to my Blog, with insight into his poignant, quirky and funny book, Broken, now also a film starring Tim Roth.

I met Daniel at the Winchester Writers' Conference a few years ago, when I went to one of his talks. His words have stayed with me ever since on a number of levels - because his advice was so useful and revealing about the publishing industry and incredibly helpful to me starting out, but also because he was so honest about his own journey. Daniel is incredibly generous with his time and knowledge; he goes out of his way to help struggling writers and is one of those people who 'really' cares. I am one of the lucky ones to have been priveleged to benefit from his support.

As well as being nominated one of Amazon's best eight debut novels for 2008, Broken was shortlisted for The Commonwealth Writers' Best First Novel Award and The Authors' Club Best First Novel Award.

Daniel  was born in Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire, in 1970. He moved to Hampshire to set up home with his wife, Alison, in 1992. Although he has always been a passionate writer, his first short story wasn't published until 1998, and it would be another ten years before Harper Press bought the rights to his debut novel, Broken, in the UK.

The Story

      You thought your neighbours were bad? Wait till you meet the Oswalds. They're crass, cruel and seemingly untouchable. Until, that is, they go one step too far – and the results begin to tear an entire community apart.

      Skunk Cunningham is an eleven-year-old girl in a coma. She has a loving dad, an absent mother and a brother who plays more X-Box than is good for him. She also has the neighbours from hell: the five Oswald girls and their thuggish father Bob, vicious bullies all of them, whose reign of terror extends unchallenged over their otherwise quiet suburban street.

      And yet terrifying though they undoubtedly are, the stiletto-wearing, cider-swilling Oswald girls are also sexy – so when Saskia asks shy, virginal Rick Buckley for a ride in his new car, he can’t believe his luck. Too bad that Saskia can’t keep her big mouth shut. When, after a quick fumble, she broadcasts Rick’s deficiencies to anyone who will listen, it puts ideas into her younger sister’s silly head – ideas that will see Rick dragged off to prison, humiliated, and ultimately, in his father’s words ‘broken’ by the experience. From her hospital bed,

      Skunk tries to make sense of the events that follow, as Saskia’s small act of cruelty spreads through the neighbourhood in a web of increasing violence. As we inch closer to the mystery behind her coma, Skunk’s innocence becomes a beacon by which we navigate a world as comic as it is tragic, and as effortlessly engaging as it is ultimately uplifting, in this brilliant and utterly original debut novel.

Over to you, Daniel:

1. Who is your favourite character in ‘Broken’ and why?

Skunk’s my favourite character, simply because it’s her story, her voice and, pretty much, her world view that pushes the whole thing forwards. Even before I knew what the story was, I was really enjoying writing snippets of scenes from her point of view – not even scenes, really, just thoughts she was having about her brother or her dad or the as yet unnamed family of girls who were bullying her at school. I’ve never really had that experience with a character in anything else I’ve ever written.

2. How did you settle on the title for ‘Broken’?

When my agent got involved he didn’t like the title I’d been using up until then – and, as soon as he said why he wasn’t keen I could see his point – so we just swapped some e-mails with different ideas. I think my wife suggested Broken Hearted and either my agent or his assistant came back with Broken, which just seemed to fit. It’s funny the name came about that way because a lot of reviews (for both the book and the film) seem to feel the central theme is broken characters/broken families/broken society/Broken Britain, whereas that wasn’t really on my mind while I was writing it, and the title certainly wasn’t picked to highlight that theme; it was just the nickname for a major character and seemed to fit the book overall.

3. What's the nicest thing anyone has said about your book?

Someone recently posted a five-star review on Amazon that included the line ‘I will read anything this man writes, ever’, which was a really nice thing to read. I’ve seen a couple of reviews, though – on Goodreads, I think – where people have said it’s made them look at the world in a different way, and I guess, in a way, most people who write have that sort of ambition somewhere within them, so that’s always a nice thing to read.

4. What alternative title did you consider?

The novel was always called ‘It’s a Sin’ while I was working on it and submitting it to agents for representation. It seemed perfect for me because the whole premise of the novel was how much more ‘in your face’ modern society feels compared to the one depicted in To Kill a Mockingbird, and, of course, in To Kill a Mockingbird you have to wait till almost half way through the novel before you learn the whole mockingbird saying – it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird – so, to me, to have the more ‘in your face’ half of that saying as the title really appealed.

My agent had two problems with that title, though – Broken isn’t a story about sin, and each time he saw the title he had The Pet Shop Boys going around in his head. Both fair points, I thought, so we started to look for something new...

5. What is the hardest part of writing for you?

Pushing a story forwards – I love starting novels and I love rewriting but I do struggle to think, okay, time to stop changing commas into semi-colons now and actually try and write a new sentence…

6. What do you enjoy most about the writing process?

There’s a stage where I can get lost in what I’m doing, and that’s always what I’m trying to achieve – that intensity where I feel I’m in the story, not sitting at a desk in front of a laptop. For me, it usually happens when I’m writing a new scene that suddenly takes an unexpected direction, or when I’m redrafting and I’m suddenly just reading the story in a blur of words rather than thinking about the mechanics of what I’m trying to achieve.

7. Which novel do you wish you’d written?

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates or Stoner by John Williams. For me, they’re both incredibly powerful novels about incredibly ordinary people most of us wouldn’t pay any attention to if they happened to live over the road. I’d love to create something like that.

8. In the reviews and feedback you’ve had for the book – what has surprised you most?

How far around the world it’s gone. To me, it just seems to be such an English story – such a small town English story – that I couldn’t really imagine someone who’s never lived in England or only ever lived in an English city really understanding it, let alone a New Yorker or someone based in Rome, for instance. But the things people seem to identify with – Mr Jeffries’ frustrations with his career, Archie’s love for his daughter, frustration with the Oswalds – are universal, I guess, and these are the things international readers seem to pick up on. Even so, it still never ceases to amaze me that I’ve had really nice e-mails from readers in places such as Toronto, Rio, Sydney, Bombay and other faraway places like that.

9. Which authors would you invite over for dinner to get to know better?

Well, I guess as I’d really love to produce the sort of novels they both produced themselves, it would have to be Richard Yates and John Williams.

10. What questions would you want to make sure you asked them?

How many times did you nearly give up? And, on your deathbeds, did you ever regret all that time you spent away from your loved ones, trying to get a sentence just right? 

Thanks, Daniel, for taking the time to contribute to my blog!

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Exclusive Q & A with Paula Daly

author photo high re.jpg
Photo: Stephen Lea

Daly covers 1.jpgPaula Daly is the author of the gripping page-turner Just What Kind of Mother are You? It's a Psychological Thriller (of course) and is one of my TOP THREE novels of this year - and I'm looking forward to more. I was bowled over when Paula kindly agreed to answer some questions - just for me - about the book!

 Paula Daly lives in Cumbria with her husband, three children and whippet Skippy. She is a freelance physiotherapist and lived for a short while in France, but returned to the UK after missing the hustle and bustle. Just What Kind of Mother are You? is her first novel, and she is currently working on her next.

Story Outline

What if your best friend's child disappears? And it's all your fault.
This is exactly what happens to Lisa Kallisto - overwhelmed working mother of three - one freezing December in the Lake District. She takes her eye off the ball for just a moment and her whole world descends into nightmare. Her best friend's thirteen-year-old daughter Lucinda has gone missing and now, devastated by this and publicly blamed, Lisa sets out to right the wrong.

But as she begins peeling away the layers surrounding Lucinda's disappearance, Lisa learns that the quiet town she lives in isn't what she thought it was, and her friends might not be who they appear to be, either.

Q&A with Paula

1. How did you settle on the title for 'Just What kind of Mother are You'?

The novel was originally called ‘Stripped Bare’ – a play on the fact that a young girl turns up on a busy street, naked from the waist up, and the stripping bare of a family under scrutiny. But I was told it was too ‘Crime’ and it needed to be more feminine for the psychological thriller genre. And of course it is a bit Fifty Shades, too. I don’t know where the actual title Just What Kind of Mother Are You? came from, but everyone seemed happy with it so it stuck.

2. What alternative title(s) did you consider?

Stripped Bare. No Milk Today.

3. In the reviews and feedback you’ve had for the book – what has surprised you most?

A couple of Canadian reviewers commented that the spoilt, middleclass protagonist has been overdone in fiction. This was shocking to me as my hero – Lisa – is a working class mother, working full time in an animal shelter, who is barely keeping her head above water. She is married to a taxi driver and they struggle to make ends meet. I thought I may have laid on their financial situation a bit thick, but evidently not.

4. What's the nicest thing anyone has said about your book?

Lots of people have said that they love the characters, that they were memorable and felt as if they knew them. Which was really nice. But there was one particular lady who had recently suffered a great deal of loss in her life, but at an earlier point was terribly overstretched taking care of children. She felt I captured the plight of the overburdened mother very well. I was really touched and I felt a deep sense of gratitude that she’d felt moved enough to write to me to let me know.

5. Who is your favourite character in your book(s) and why?

It’s got to be Mad Jackie because we all need a ‘says it like it is’ character in our lives.

6. Which author(s) would you invite over for dinner to get to know better?

I would like to meet Maria Semple – author of ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’ because she seems funny and interesting and I like to laugh.

7. Which one question would you want to make sure you asked them?

Red or white?

8. What is the hardest part of the writing process for you?

The composition. I find getting the words down the hardest part.

9. What do you enjoy most about the writing process?

The ‘dreaming up’ part. I’m in this phase now for book 3 and it’s joyous. I love thinking up cool scenes and shocking twists and character names and love interests and etc etc.

10. Which Novel do you wish you'd written?

The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

Many thanks to Paula. You can find out more about her book on Amazon HERE

Thursday, 15 August 2013

NEW Edition - The Self-Esteem Journal

An 'old' book of mine, The Self-Esteem Journal has been given a new lease of life and granted a re-release TODAY, 15th August! It seems odd, just as I'm setting up as a writer of Psychological Suspense Mysteries to find this self-help book popping up again, but I'm very happy to see it's popular enough to get a new edition and a new cover. It's also out as an EBOOK within two weeks according to the publisher.

There are no murders in it, no serial killers, but some might say it's a page-turner...What it does have is 'psychological depth' and plenty of material about the impact of families: family secrets and family narratives - the stories we hear about ourselves as children, the assumptions we make and internalise as the 'truth' about who we are.

Here is that all-important jacket blurb:

  • Do you lack confidence and never feel really happy? 
  • Do you wish you could stop judging yourself all the time and get on with your life?
If so, this book will teach you simple techniques to boost your self-esteem and bring lasting results. By starting your own self-esteem journal, you can not only understand more about yourself, but learn how to give yourself the compassion, respect, acceptance and support you deserve. There are 45 stimulating exercises which invite you to explore how you truly feel about your life and examine the behaviours and beliefs that may be holding you back.  

Topics include: 
  • how to identify distorted self-beliefs 
  • challenging your inner critical voice 
  • ways to break the cycle of low self-esteem 
  • how to turn worrying into problem-solving 
  • sure-fire ways to get back in control 
By writing about your feelings, thoughts and experiences, you can open up a whole new relationship with yourself.

According to Amazon, I'm a 'Clinical Psychotherapist' which is a new one on me! I didn't write that bit. Anyway - it's there on Amazon if you want to start writing a personal Journal with more purpose and direction.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

What is it about Crime Fiction?

I recently wrote Why I write Crime fiction for Shaz's book blog. It’s a post about how my encounters in Psychotherapy led me to writing Psychological Thrillers. Sharon is a self-confessed bookaholic and her blog reviews novels, with plenty of author interviews and giveaways. If you’ve not visited the site before, it’s well worth a nose around. 

Image: Microsoft
'I didn’t know I was going to be a Crime writer. It rather crept up on me.

After flitting through various admin jobs in my adult life, I qualified as a Psychotherapist/Counsellor in London and ran a private practice for over 15 years. As an hardened Introvert myself, I’m intrigued by people’s inner-worlds, the place inside their heads where they reflect, plan, analyse. Having access to people’s deepest thoughts as a therapist – the inner worlds they largely keep hidden from even their closest friends – has been enthralling, challenging and deeply moving.

Through my practice, I got to work with ex-offenders from high-security institutions, such as Broadmoor and Rampton Hospitals, coming face to face with the criminal mind. Surprisingly, however, I invariably came away feeling more sad, than disturbed by these encounters. I found that a large number of those individuals who end up committing terrible crimes feel they have absolutely no way out of their untenable situations (poverty, drug-addiction, domestic abuse etc) and lash out as a last resort. They are protecting their kids, in some cases. Many of them end up self-harming and most of them haven’t committed ‘calculated’ crimes, although there are always a number of wayward psychopaths out there on the loose. 

These exclusive experiences provide fine fodder for a crime fiction writer - but I never thought I could write. My self-help books are published, but the idea of writing a novel seemed beyond me. How could anyone possibly sustain a story for that many pages? I loved the idea of it – but decided ‘proper’ writers had something I didn’t.

That all changed when I read Stephen King’s book On Writing. He talks about starting with ‘an incident’ and then says the focus must be on just getting the story down. I set out to write 2,500 words at first and couldn’t stop. In a few months, I had a novel (not very well plotted, I admit, but it got me a London Agent). Sadly, the book didn’t sell, so I was forced to move on. Fortunately, because I was completely smitten with writing by then, I’d written three more. I submitted the next two and was extremely relieved to be offered presentation again by another top Agent. We’ve now got book deals in France and Germany and the books are out this week in the UK.

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Due to my experiences and knowledge of Psychotherapy, my books are Psychological Thrillers. I love secrets, hidden motives, locked rooms and anything tucked under floorboards. I love writing about unusual psychological disorders or about ordinary, sane individuals who make one drastic mistake after another, leading them down the slippery slope to murder. What is most compelling is that these killers could be the man next-door - or perhaps even you or I.' 

The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train by A J Waines are available now on Amazon as paperbacks and ebooks. The author’s website is: