Monday, 20 October 2014

The author in my spotlight is ....Claire Dyer

I am delighted to introduce to the blog

The Perfect Affair
Claire Dyer

Claire ~ welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thank you for chatting to us about your book 
The Perfect Affair.

Where did you get that first blinding flash of inspiration for The Perfect Affair?

It actually came via two sources. Firstly, I was shown a photograph of a reception held sometime in the 1960s to mark the launch of a ship. There was something in the way two of the people in the photograph were standing which told me that there was more to their relationship than met the eye. They were studiously not looking at one another and yet I could feel a tug of connection between them and so started thoughts about writing a novel about characters torn between love and duty.

Secondly, I drove by a house one day which had the most amazing stained glass in its front door and this got me thinking about doorways and about the sun throwing colours onto a hallway floor. To me doorways are liminal places and so I wanted Eve and Myles to meet on a doorstep and for this boundary to represent the struggle between right and wrong that they experience in their relationship.

What can you tell us about the story that won't give too much away?

There are two stories in the novel: one chronicling Rose’s affair with Henry in the 1950s and the other following Eve and Myles’s relationship in the present day. What I wanted to show most of all are the choices the two women face in their respective generations and how some of these choices are very different from one another and also how some are very much the same. There are therefore quite a number of motifs linking the two narratives. Moreover, I didn’t necessarily want pass judgement on the rights and wrongs of their respective situations but instead to give voice to the heartbreak people can suffer and cause when they find themselves falling in love with someone they shouldn’t.

Whilst you are writing you must live with your characters. How do you feel about them when the book is finished? Are they what you expected them to be?

I always go into a period of mourning when a book comes to an end. You’re right, I do live with them and it’s a 24/7 thing so when it’s done I experience a kind of grief. My characters move into my head and heart and even if I don’t do it consciously, I find I'm working on plot points or the scenes they will people when I’m going about my daily business. Therefore when I do sit down to write, it’s like they’re real and have been there all along and are speaking through me and so I don’t actually have much of a say. It’s all a bit weird really!

And, I guess that because of this my characters can and do change as the novel progresses. In The Perfect Affair Rose was supposed to be a bit part but she became more and more vocal and visible and, rather than it being a conscious choice, her story spilled out concurrently with Eve’s. I guess the only person who really stayed as I had intended him was Henry, but then that’s Henry for you; constant and steady!

Which character in the story did you identify with the most?

I suppose it has to be Eve because we are roughly the same age and my sons have recently been the same age as Eve’s daughter is in the novel, so there is a lot I can identify with in her life. However, to make us different from one another I made her tall with long straight hair whereas I am short with short curly hair and this helped me distance myself from her and see her story more objectively!

Are you a plotter...or ...a start writing and see where it takes you, sort of writer?

A bit of both. I do plot the overall arc of the novel; I decide on my settings and time frames and sketch out my characters and do whatever research is necessary but then I kind of let the story take over. I find my books have their own narrative urge and that if I over think things this doesn’t leave room for invention. What I love the most is sitting at my keyboard and seeing what happens. Obviously in doing it this way there are good days and bad days! I usually do have a rough idea how the book will end but don’t like to admit this to myself so as to keep it a surprise for me as well as the reader! This all changes, of course, in the editing process when I have to hone and buff my prose and ensure everything ties up but the first draft has, in the past, tended to be a bit of a voyage of discovery!

Do you write the type of books you like to read and which authors have influenced your writing?

Yes I suppose I do. I like books that make me think, that I have to work at to tease out their meaning. Like with poetry, I like novels I come out of knowing more than when I went in! I recently did an MA in Victorian Literature and so hugely admire the technical and narrative skills of writers such as Eliot and Dickens. My favourite novel ever is Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and I’m a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway but also love Margaret Atwood, Anna Quindlen, oh the list is quite endless! I am a voracious reader and am currently reading The Magus by John Fowles, have just re-read The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell and The Guernsey Litearary & Potato Peel Pie Society and a recent favourite has been Where Love Lies by Julie Cohen. I’ve also just completed another MA, this time in Poetry, and have fallen completely for the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop. She is, as a friend recently said, like a cat. She always falls on her feet in her poems! I do so envy her this!

What’s next?

I am currently working on another novel which is a multi-point-of-view, multi-generational story set between 1987 and now and which has trust as its core theme. So, I have my work cut out!

More about Claire can be found on her website.

Claire~ Thank you it's been a real pleasure to learn more about the writing process and the fascinating background to The Perfect Affair.

Jaffa and I wish you continuing success with your writing career.


Sunday, 19 October 2014

Sunday War Poet...

Robert Malise Bowyer Nichols
1893- 1944

Robert Nichols, by Elliott & Fry.jpg


It is midday; the deep trench glares….
A buzz and blaze of flies….
The hot wind puffs the giddy airs….
The great sun rakes the skies.

No sound in all the stagnant trench
Where forty standing men
Endure the sweat and grit and stench,
Like cattle in a pen.

Sometimes a sniper's bullet whirs
Or twangs the whining wire,
Sometimes a soldier sighs and stirs
As in hell's frying fire.

From out a high, cool cloud descends
An aeroplane's far moan,
The sun strikes down, the thin cloud rends….
The black speck travels on.

And sweating, dazed, isolate
In the hot trench beneath,
We bide the next shrewd move of fate
Be it of life or death.

Robert Nichols was an English writer, poet and playwright.
He was educated Winchester and Oxford. He was in the trenches for only a few weeks before being invalided out with shell-shock in 1915, never to return.
 He worked for Ministries of Labour and Information.


Saturday, 18 October 2014

Review ~ The Man from Berlin by Luke McCallin

No Exit Press
27 November 2014

The Man from Berlin is a complicated historical thriller set during the chaos of WW2. In Sarajevo in 1943 Abwehr Lieutenant Stefan Hende is found dead, shot by killers unknown. Linked to his death, is the brutal murder of Marija Vukie, a beautiful socialite and propaganda film maker. The deaths, instead of being assigned to the local military police, are assigned to Captain Gregor Reinhardt, a military intelligence officer, who is trying very hard to keep a low profile. However, this case throws him into the very heart of political corruption.

As this is the first in the series there is rather a lot to take in about Reinhardt. His past history is complex and his strong ethical convictions often place him in direct contrast to those he serves. As a thriller, it works. The writing is assured and competent with a fine eye for detail. The plot is well controlled and the intricacies of German war politics are accurately portrayed.

 However, I have to say that I struggled with the book; this was largely due to the unfamiliarity of Yugoslavian names, and the added complexities of reading about a time in history of which I know very little. However, if you are looking for a literary historical thriller and don’t mind getting to grips with a complex and intricate story line, then this first book in the Gregor Reinhardt series is a good place to start.

My thanks to Real Readers and No Exit Press for my review copy of this book.

Luke McCallin


Review ~ The Hot Country by Robert Olen Butler

No Exit Press
18 December 2014

In 1914, war correspondent Christopher Marlow ‘Kit’  Cobb arrives in Vera Cruz, Mexico to report on the complexities of civil war.  En route to a meeting with the revolutionary Pancho Villa, Marlowe assumes a false identity in order to pursue the German diplomat Friedrich von Mensinger. However, his journey is fraught with danger and very soon Kit finds himself caught up, not just in perilous political intrigue, but also in a dangerous intimate relationship with a young Mexican woman, who may have more than a passing interest in the revolution. Kit is a dangerous protagonist, a man of great contradictions, and his overriding belief in getting things done is the fundamental focus of the novel.

There is no denying that the author is adept at this particular genre, and controls the narrative in a very accomplished way. The story is complex, full of adventure and unfurls almost like cinematography, until you can almost imagine it being one of those late night movies that grabs your attention, until almost without realising, and against your better judgement, you get drawn into the story. The plot is well controlled and very detailed; however, I have to say that I struggled with the book, particularly in the first two thirds, when I was very tempted to give up. The story, well written though it may be, just didn't grab my attention fully, and I must admit to skim reading over parts of the narrative.

If you like complicated historical fiction and enjoy starting an adventurous thriller series from the beginning then The Hot Country is a good place to start, as this sees the commencement of the Christopher Marlow Cobb series of books of which there are now three.

My thanks to Real Readers and No Exit Press for my review copy of this book.


 Robert Olen Butler


Friday, 17 October 2014

The author in my spotlight is ....Rebecca Mascull

I am delighted to introduce Rebecca Mascull

chatting about her book

Rebecca Mascull
Author of The Visitors (2014) 
Song of the Sea Maid (2015), 
Published by Hodder & Stoughton.

Rebecca ~ welcome to Jaffareadstoo....

What inspired you to write The Visitors?

As with any novel, a number of things came together to influence this book. I worked with deaf teenagers when I was training to be a teacher and I realised how ignorant I was about the challenges of deaf communication and education. I shared a bus ride with a deaf lad called James and we had a fascinating conversation in my notepad, where I asked him questions about what it was like to be deaf. I also saw a film about Helen Keller when I was a teenager and was fascinated by how it must feel to not only have no sight or hearing, yet also to have no language. I tried to imagine how one could think without language. I wanted to explore my main character's mind and her transition from a pre-language state to that of communication. I wanted to set it at a time when deaf-blindness was misunderstood and see how my protagonist pushed against those restrictions, so that's one reason why I chose the late-Victorian period. Those are some of the influences that shaped 'The Visitors', but there are likely to be many more rattling around inside my head!

What can you tell us about the story that won't give too much away?

'The Visitors' is the story of a Victorian child, Adeliza, who becomes deaf and blind at a very young age. Without language she is desperately frustrated and almost feral, with a caring father who doesn't know how to help and an ill mother. Her only friends are the Visitors, who she talks to in her head. Luckily, she meets a young hop-picker on her father's hop farm who knows how to communicate through finger spelling and teaches her language. The story follows Liza on her journey through learning to communicate and beyond, to the truth about the mysterious Visitors.

Are you a 'plotter' or are you happy to let the story go wherever it takes you?

Yes, I'm very much a plotter. I write a detailed synopsis and then an even more detailed chapter plan before writing, which I then follow as I'm writing the first draft. However, in everything I've written, I always end up going off the track of my original plans. Often, the characters themselves drive this. I might have a certain plan for a character and they turn round and say, NO thank you, I'm off to do this! It is a curious thing, but there's no turning them once they've done that. I've found you can't shoehorn a character into a plot they don't fit and one must listen to that voice that tells you where they should be going. As a writer, I feel it's very important to be open to that voice, which I believe comes from the sub-conscious and is the driving force behind the most profound parts of novel writing, and probably most artistic endeavours.

What are your main literary influences?

I couldn't say I would know what influences each book that I write, as that's part of the mysterious process I've described above. Also, I try not to read any novels while I'm actually engaged in writing the first draft, as I'm terrified of being influenced, actually! I would hate anyone to say - ooh, she must have nicked that from such-and-such a writer! But of course, every novel I read enters into the back of my mind and stays there, to surface when you least expect it. I would say that there are certain writers that inspire me to be a better writer - those include Charles Dickens, Margaret Atwood, J. D. Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald and a very recent discovery, Elizabeth Jane Howard. All of these writers influence me in terms of writing books in which I've lost myself and continue to haunt me. That's how I want to feel about my own books and how I'd want a reader to feel about them too, hopefully!

What scares you about writing books?

What a great question! Gosh, I think it's about the book not turning out in the way you wanted. I have a vision of a book before it's written and it's always this glorious piece of transcendent art...but it never turns out exactly that way! Instead, a novel is a rag-tag bundle of words and images and fleeting impressions that goes some way towards what you intended, but once written it resides in the mind of each and every reader. And there's nothing the writer can do to control that, and if you're lucky, a reader might experience a moment of that transcendence you were reaching for, and in the end, that's enough. But I do believe that fear - the worry that the book won't live up to your early vision of it - is a good and useful thing, as it drives you to make it the best book it can be.

What books do you like to read?

Well, I've mentioned some of my favourite writers above; others would include Amy Tan, Isabel Allende, Raymond Carver, Jack London, Marilynne Robinson - a real mixed bunch! Mostly, I'll read anything if the writing grabs me - the quality of the prose is the thing that keeps me reading, not the genre or writer's reputation or previous work. For example, I think Ian McEwan is a very fine writer indeed and 'Atonement' is one of my favourite novels of all time, but I couldn't finish 'Saturday'. The same with John Fowles. Even Dickens - I didn't finish the Pickwick Papers or Barnaby Rudge, but I devoured the others. That's also about a particular plot or set of characters, that chime with me, that move me and make me want to carry on inside their world. You can't quantify that and it's random and therefore elusive. The magic of books!

What's next?

I've just finished the copy-edit of my second novel for Hodder and Stoughton. It's called 'Song of the Sea Maid' and is the story of an C18th orphan girl who becomes a scientist and makes a remarkable discovery. It'll be published in June 2015. I'm also into the early stages of research for my third novel for Hodder, set in the early years of the C20th. It's at that lovely, shadowy stage where I don't know what's going to happen, and I love that bit! Before the proper hard work starts, yet this early stage is where a lot of the character and plot development begins and is a crucial part of the process. 

Hopefully, it will turn out well...Wish me luck! 

Find out more about Rebecca here:

Follow her on Twitter


Rebecca ~ it's been a real pleasure to have you visit our blog.

Jaffa and I look forward to reading your next book Song of the Sea Maid in 2015.

Come back and see us again soon.


Thursday, 16 October 2014

Review ~ The Visitors by Rebecca Mascull

Hodder & Stoughton
July 2014
Imagine if you couldn't see

couldn't hear
couldn't speak...

Then one day somebody took your hand and opened up the world to you.

 In late Victorian England on her father’s hop farm, Adeliza Golding is born with very little sight. Tragically, as a three year old, and after a bout of scarlet fever, she loses her hearing and cataracts obstruct her vision even further. She becomes increasingly isolated; unable to communicate and trapped and lost in a world of darkness. Her father tries in vain to understand her, but has neither the knowledge nor the patience to overcome Liza’s disabilities.

In her darkness and confusion, Liza’s only communication is with the visitors, ghostly visions she speaks to in her head, who bring her neither comfort or joy, but who are her only way of making sense of her dark and dangerous world. One day, Lottie, a young hop picker takes Liza’s hand and begins to draw the shape of words, and suddenly the world beckons Liza in a way that she could never have envisaged.

What then follows is a beautifully written and very poignant coming of age story, in which Liza matures and grows into a strong and courageous young woman. With Lottie’s companionship, Liza is able to make sense of a changing world which sees her leave the familiarity of the Kentish hop fields, and head towards the unknown territory of the Boer War. The sweep of history moves effortlessly and very cleverly takes the reader on a voyage of discovery. We view the world through Liza’s eyes, which damaged though they are, offer a unique perspective on everything around her.

The overriding theme of love, friendship and survival make this one of those stories that stays with you long after the last page is turned.

It is a commendable debut novel, and I look forward to reading more from this talented author.

Do come back tomorrow to read an interview with Rebecca Mascull


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Review ~ Hold the Dark by William Giraldi

No Exit Press
To be published
February 2015

Dark secrets combined with horrifying revenge form the basis for this cleverly controlled and decidedly creepy thriller.

The dark menace of Hold the Dark permeates throughout the narrative until you begin to feel an ice cold chill of dread. In the Alaskan village of Keelut, wolves have allegedly slinked right into the village in order to take away small children.  When her six year old son disappears Medora Slone enlists the help of wolf expert Russell Core, who must try to get to the heart of this horrific mystery. And when Medora’s husband, Vernon, is invalided out of the army, he returns from Iraq hell bent on finding his son and wreaking revenge.

Hold the Dark is exceptionally bleak, and probably not a story to read if you are feeling downhearted. However, even though the story is uncompromisingly desolate, there is no escaping that it captures your attention from the beginning and literally gets right under your skin. The core of its darkness comes in the uncompromising violence which is threaded throughout the book, and whilst this is not to my personal taste, I acknowledge that it adds credibility, not just to the barrenness of the story’s landscape, but also to the obdurate nature of its characters.

As thrillers go it held my attention throughout, however, I must say I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the book was over and the darkness receded.

My thanks to Real Readers and No Exit Press for my review copy of this book.