A chat with author Cathy Donnelly

Today the Conclave is delighted to welcome a new author to talk to us. Cathy Donnelly is of Scottish origins but now lives in Australia. She is the author of books Distant Whispers and There is a place.

Cathy M. Donnelly

Welcome to the Conclave, Cathy.

First of all, would you like to tell us how you came to start writing?

Thank you for inviting me Millie.

My grandfather gave me novels to read when I was a child. I got my love of storytelling from those. I would make up stories to tell my friends on the walk to school and then write them down later, and I always looked forward to English class when we were required to write a story. Over the years I have written short stories and meditations, but it was always my dream to write novels.

 

Your first book is a historical novel that takes the reader through the ages. Are these periods in history that you know well? Did it require a lot of research?

Because Distant Whispers has the theme of reincarnation it gave me the flexibility to include periods in history that I have read a lot about. I set the first part of the story in 17th century England, which was filled with many interesting events and characters, and with the second part, which takes place in the present day, I was able to flow back in history to other periods that interested me. I got great enjoyment from weaving Rachel’s story through various centuries.

I am very interested in the history of Alexander the Great and the Knights Templar, so I have read a lot about the times and events surrounding them. This provided great material, especially with the Templars whose history is extensive and intriguing – lots of theories, secrets and legends. It was easy for me to include scenes with both Alexander and the Templars in Distant Whispers because of the past lives element.

There was a great deal of research involved but I feel it is essential to be as accurate as possible when writing historical fiction. There are exceptions of course. There are occasions when I have taken a legend, often disputed by historians, and incorporated it into the storyline. I believe, however, that is why legends are so fascinating. Who is to know for certain if they are true or not? I also like to find a little known fact about a character or a certain period and weave it into my stories.

Fortunately I absolutely love researching. I get lost in it and sometimes have to drag myself away just to get some words on paper.

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Tell us more about the concept of reincarnation in Distant Whispers.

With Distant Whispers the ending came to me first so the story had to take place in more than one lifetime of the same person. I am fascinated by this concept so I enjoyed playing around with different periods in history to tell Rachel’s story. It mainly takes place in her lifetimes in 1665 in England and present day Australia, but to deepen the reincarnation theme I included flashbacks to her lives in 323BC, 1398 and 1854.

Some people believe in reincarnation and others not, but there are many who believe in the possibility that our spirit does not die with our body and we will live again in mortal form. Although fiction, I like to think my story will entertain those who believe in reincarnation, perhaps give comfort to those who would like to believe in it, and also give some thought for contemplation to those who do not.

 

Now, in There is a Place, we seem to have a more classic style of historical novel, one that rests in the same time period throughout – is that correct?

The main part of the story takes place in Scotland from the famous Battle of Flodden in 1513 to the year 1548 when, as a child, Mary Queen of Scots was sent to France for her safety. The history of the period is seen through the eyes of Michael who, after tragedies in his life, becomes a monk on the island of Inchmahome.

There is a time-slip element to the later part of the story which is set in same location but in the year 2010.

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What drew you to that period?

So much happened in that period of Scottish history. There was the death of King James IV, the unhappy childhood, two marriages and death of James V, the birth and death of two princes and the birth of Mary, Queen of Scots. There were battles and alliances, intrigues and betrayals. A compelling period.

 

How did it feel writing about your native Scotland? It is a place of legends and turbulent history – did all of this inspire your writing?

It certainly does inspire me. I love writing about Scotland. I go back to visit my family (and do research) every three years and there is just something magical about the place. And yes, its history was turbulent. No-one could ever say we are a boring nation. There are so many stories to be told and I am sure there will more Scottish novels for me to write.

 

Are all the places you describe real or imagined?

All the places are real. The story is set mainly on the beautiful island of Inchmahome on the Lake of Menteith. The Augustinian priory was built there in 1238 and was still in use in the time of There is a Place. Although now mostly ruins, great effort has gone into its upkeep and on the occasions I visited there I could easily imagine Michael and the monks walking to the church or working in the gardens.scotland-528449_1920

Many of the scenes take place at Alloa Tower which was built in 1368. It is the ancestral home of the Erskine family and the Earls of Mar and Kellie, who have been prominent figures throughout Scotland’s history. They fought at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 and also for Joan of Arc in France. The Tower is in wonderful condition and, as with Inchmahome, I could imagine my characters wandering around the place.

Michael also ventures outside Scotland – he walks the Camino Way and visits France.

 

Obviously, you live in the present day, but did you try to put something of yourself into the characters in the story?

I think all writers do in some way, whether it is conscious or not. With me it may be traits I have or wish I had. I think there will be occasions when a character’s reaction is based on how I would feel or react to certain situations. In the editing process I did come across some reactions that I realised were more to do with me than the character so I had to temper that.

What do you hope readers will take from your work?

I hope they will love the characters and journey with them through the stories. Perhaps they may learn something about those who have gone before them. I would be content if at the end they said ‘I really enjoyed that story’ and that it stayed with them for a while. If they hoped that I would write a sequel or a novel along a similar theme, then that would be wonderful.

Your work is a mix of historical fiction and fantasy. What kind of books do you like to read yourself? Any titles in particular that stand out for you?

I enjoy historical novels around the periods I write about and stories that have a mystical or supernatural element. If I pick up a book and the blurb on the back mentions ancient secrets, secret societies, intriguing legends, then I am usually hooked.

Among my favourite novels are Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons but Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell is the ultimate novel for me. I have read it twice and watched the movie three times. There are not enough words to express how enchanted I am by this book. It left a lasting impression on me.

Another book I have read countless times is The Prophet by Khalil Gibran. I keep this by my bed.

What’s next? Are you planning another novel?

I have a few things on the go. I have started a rough outline for a sequel to my first novel Distant Whispers and I have almost completed a compilation of short stories based on Hawk, one of the characters in Distant Whispers. He is a Native American and meets my main character, Rachel, in one of her lifetimes in the 14th century and continues to be her guide through her other lifetimes. I also have an idea for another Scottish historical novel. There is bound to some sort of mystical or supernatural element involved.

I continue to write short stories (there are a couple on my website) and I am working on a project based on Norse mythology.

Cathy, thank you so much for a very interesting interview. You make me want to visit beautiful Scotland!

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A talk with author Ruth Kozak

Today we are delighted to welcome author Ruth Kozak to the Conclave.

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W. Ruth Kozak is a Canadian travel journalist with a strong interest in history and archaeology. A frequent traveller, Ruth lived for several years in Greece and instructs classes in travel journalism and creative writing. A travel writer since 1982, Ruth also edits and publishes her own on-line travel zine at www.travelthruhistory.com Her ATHENS AND BEYOND e-book for Hunter Publishing, US was published in Nov 2015 on Kindle and she is currently working on one EXPLORING THE GREEK ISLANDS.

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Ruth’s novel with her Empowered Writer Award

Ruth’s first historical fiction novel SHADOW OF THE LION: BLOOD ON THE MOON (Volume One) was published July 2014 by www.mediaaria-cdm.com UK. This is her first published literary work. Volume Two BLOOD ON THE MOON: THE FIELDS OF HADES will be produced in 2016. SHADOW OF THE LION: BLOOD ON THE MOON is currently available on Amazon.com and in bookstores.

reading the the grade nine class at the Athens Community School
Ruth at a reading with the 9th grade class at Athens Community school

Ruth is a member of the Federation of BC Writers, The Canadian Author’s Association and is President of the BC Association of Travel Writers. She also instructs writing classes and presents workshops and readings.

 

Welcome to the Conclave, Ruth. It is an honour to have you with us. First of all, why not tell us about Shadow of the Lion.

When Alexander the Great, King of Macedon and conqueror of Asia, dies suddenly under suspicious circumstances at the age of 33 in Babylon, everyone who lives in his shadow is affected. As the after-shocks of Alexander’s death bring disorder to his Empire from Macedon to Persia, a deadly power struggle beings over who will rule. SHADOW OF THE LION: BLOOD ON THE MOON begins with Alexander’s death in Babylon and the birth of his only legitimate heir Alexander IV (Iskander) who becomes joint-king with Alexander’s mentally challenged half-brother Philip Arridaios. Volume One is the journey of the kings from Babylon to Macedon. Volume Two THE FIELDS OF HADES, which is due out in September, covers the wars of Alexander’s Successors and the women who dominated his life including his mother, Olympias, and his niece Adea-Eurydike resulting in the tragic end of Alexander’s dynasty.

Statue of Alexander on Bucephalus at Thessaloniki
Statue of Alexander on Bucephalus, in Thessaloniki

Interesting that you should start with the aftermath of Alexander; others before you have concentrated on the man himself and his empire. What drew you to that period in history?

I first became fascinated with Alexander in a history class at school when I was 16 years old. By the end of high school I had written my first Alexander-themed novel. It wasn’t until 1979 that I first visited Greece, ending up going there to live during the ‘80s and from 1993, part time while I wrote SHADOW.

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Artist’s impression of ancient Babylon

How did you research it, and have you endeavoured to be as historically accurate as possible?

This is historical fiction, but it follows a historical time-line so I wanted to be as accurate as possible. I did a great deal of research early on in libraries, but once I started to travel and live in Greece I did more research on sites as well as with the help of Classical scholars, the Greek Ministry of Culture, the Finnish Institute and other sources.

Do you see this as a continuation of your travel writing?

Yes, I actually combined a lot of my research trips with travel writing. In 1993 I had a major story published in the Montreal Gazette about My Search for Alexander which included some of my research trips.

I think the two go together very well. Do you find it more difficult to write about a history that you have not experienced directly, rather than a lived travel experience?

I believe if you are going to write a historical novel you need to try and visit the places you

Ruth in Egypt
Ruth in Egypt

 

are writing about to get a sense of the country, geography etc. Of course I couldn’t visit ancient Babylon (Baghdad) so I had to do lots of research. I did try to get to as many locations as I could and missed my chance to get to Syria. Eventually in 2014 I got to Alexandria, Egypt while on a travel writer’s tour.

That sounds amazing. What a wonderful place for a writer’s tour. I imagine that this way it will be easier to picture the places and make them come alive for your readers. Have you put yourself into the story?

I tried to ‘tag’ various characters with people I had observed to give them a realistic take so I did a lot of observations and note-taking. Also, as you say, by visiting the ancient sites I was able to use my imagination to ‘put myself there’. I felt very connected with the characters in my story and let them lead me through. And I always felt that Alexander’s spirit was very close by.

bust of Alexander
Bust of Alexander

That sounds very positive and interesting. What do you hope readers will take from Shadow of the Lion?

I hope that readers of SHADOW OF THE LION will get a clearer impression of what life was like in those days, what Alexander meant to the world of his time, and therefore gain a better knowledge of the ancient history.

That’s pretty succinct, and very intriguing too. So, tell us what else you have in store for us? What’s your next project?

Because of the length of the manuscript, the publisher decided to make it into two volumes, so SHADOW OF THE LION: THE FIELDS OF HADES will be out later this year. Meanwhile I revived another novel I had set aside while writing SHADOW. This is a Celtic tale, first person, in the voice of a young Druid’s girl who is kidnapped by a renegade chieftain and ends up at the border of Ilyria/Macedon rescued by a young hunter, Alexander. It comes from an idea that because I knew so much about those times perhaps I had once lived then, so it’s almost like a past-life regression story. DRAGONS IN THE SKY links the Celts and the Greeks.

I am also currently working on another e-book guide for Hunter Publishing, US about the Greek Islands.

I look forward to your story of the Greeks and Celts, a subject I am also interested in. Thank you very much for sharing your story with us today.

Thank you, it has been a pleasure.

It has been a most enjoyable interview. We wish you every success with Shadow of the Lion and your other projects.

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Shadow of the Lion: Bloood on the Moon is available here:

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Athens and Beyond travel guide:

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Interview with Author Liz Doran

Today at the Conclave we are talking to Liz Doran, author of the newly released novel Where she Belongs. Welcome to the Conclave, Liz.

Hi everyone. Thank you very much for your invitation.12920895_10208969400177058_1996403658_n

Let’s get started. Tell us something about your book.

Where She Belongs is about an Irish woman who decides to return to her homeland after life with her Spanish husband becomes unbearable. After the recession hit Spain, her husband, Javier, has fallen into an abyss of depression and is threatening to drag her down with him. To save them both, and in an attempt to gain control of her life, make a new start and finally follow her own dreams, she has to make the cut. With a mixture of sadness and anticipation, she moves back to Ireland, rents a house by the sea, and has a fortuitous meeting with Maggie who runs a craft boutique.

At first everything runs smoothly. Maggie offers her a job and people are more than kind. Too good to be true? The last thing on her mind is another man. But then she meets Tom, the irresistible Irish man. When Javier, her Spanish husband, follows her and tries to woo her back, what does she do? After perfect beginnings where she meets some of the helpful and colourful characters who live there, things begin to get complicated. The first cracks appear on the façade. Why is her old neighbour, Mrs. Walsh, being threatened? What is she afraid of? Why are people suspicious of Maggie, her new friend and boutique owner? And what is love anyway?

It sounds very intriguing! A lot going on in your story. Where did the idea come from?

I was working on a Supernatural/Mystery novel and got stuck in the plot somewhere around 170 pages, so I decided to try something different.

You tell a tale of an expat and a search for identity. As an expat yourself, are you putting yourself in the story?

Yes, I probably am. Although the novel and the characters are completely fictional, I think it is often difficult for certain people to completely find their place in the world. I know a lot of people who have moved borders and, while some have the ability to feel at home no matter where they are, others will always be searching. It’s like straddling different worlds. I’ve lived in the USA for five years and in Germany for over twenty-five years, with several months in London and Tuscany. I think people basically want the same type of things, and I’ve attempted to address that aspect of searching in my novel. It is particularly relevant now with the huge fluctuation of people being forced to leave their home countries.

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Very true, sadly. I must say I am interested n how you explore that inner search, as someone who also knows how it feels to live abroad.

Now, going back to your novel. I detect a hint of mystery and romance in the story. Is this an important element?

Oh yes! This is why it was difficult for me to classify it in a particular genre, which answers your next question. It’s all about longing and how it is almost impossible to plan what happens to us. We might go searching for one thing, only to find something completely different.

Do you feel that your book fits into a particular genre?

I think Contemporary Women’s Fiction is the most appropriate genre for my book.

That is a very broad category. But it might help to appeal to other women. What other things have you written? Tell us about any other work.

I’ve written oodles of poems, some funny, some quirky, some thoughtful. At some stage I’d like to publish a collection of my poems. I’ve also contributed a short story to an Anthology of Short Stories called You’re Not Alone.

This project was the brain child of Ian Moore of the most supportive Indie Author Support and Disscussion Group, of which I’m a member. IASD for short. All proceeds go to the Pamela Winton tribute fund in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support for the MacMillan Charity. I’ve also contributed a poem for another Children’s Anthology for Charity. The charity has yet to be decided upon, but I believe it will be out sometime this year.

Did you choose to self-publish your own novel? If so, why?

Yes, I chose to self-publish. Having read a lot of information on the new face of publishing, I decided that if I have to do most of the marketing myself anyway, I’d rather keep the reins in my own hands. I have never sent queries to an agent or a publisher, although I did have one in mind–I think she would have been perfect for my book. Perhaps other authors might understand. When you’ve spent so long getting your novel in good shape, you don’t want to wait another couple of years before it hits the shelves.

I can certainly relate to that! Now, let’s hear a little bit more about you as a person. What kind of books do you like to sit down and read yourself?

I like mystery, supernatural, women’s fiction, thrillers, humour. I don’t generally read horror or fantasy, although I have read The Lord of the Rings and loved the Harry Potter films, the ones I’ve seen. I also read a lot of non-fiction and love a good auto-biography.

Are there any authors in particular that stand out for you?

12953019_10208969093409389_97859284_oAmy Tan. I loved One Hundred Secret Senses. Amy is so smart with great wit and insight.

Gregory David Roberts: I absolutely loved Shantaram. The writing was exquisite and there was never a dull moment.

Elizabeth Strout: Olive Kitteridge.

Deborah Muggoch: Tulip Fever.

Howard Spring: My Son, My Son. I read that when I was about seventeen and loved it.

Anne Rice: Interview with a Vampire.

Jane Austin. Well, she’s just the best!

Maud Montgomery: I’m revisiting the world of Anne of Green Gables with a German friend. What appears to be a simple story is really quite amazing.

Stephen King: Although I said I don’t read Horror, I think he’s a fantastic storyteller. I particularly liked The Stand and wouldn’t consider it horror. He didn’t kill all his darlings though.

Phil Rickman: The Merrily Watkins Mysteries.

Julia Cameron: Very inspiring. The Artist’s Way

Joseph O’Connor: Star of the Sea. I really enjoyed it.

Phillip Marlowe. I read a lot of his stories when I first came to Germany. He entertained me for days.

And so many more I’m sure I’ve forgotten.

Well that is quite a good list. Some old favourites on there for me too. What’s next? Are you planning a new project

Yes, I’m working on a novel I started a couple of years ago. It’s set in present day, but has some mystery, supernatural, romance and historical elements. It is loosely based on a true event and a real place. It drifts from the present to the past, almost like two books in one. I really like it!

Thank you for being here today, Liz. I wish you every success with your novel and of course any further works to come.

Where she Belongs is available here:

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A new kind of Counsellor: Alison McVey

Today at the Conclave, we are pleased to welcome Alison McVey of the Night Shift Nurse, who is currently working on her first book. Alison is a relationship counsellor and sex therapist.

Welcome to the Conclave, Alison. Delighted to have you with us.

Thank you, I’m honored to be here!

The internet has opened up all kinds of possibilities and career opportunities that we couldn’t have imagined before, and this is the case with you. Could you tell us about your work in relationship counselling, and the general philosophy behind your business?

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The Internet is amazing! It has opened up the doors to people that have resisted asking for medical help, have issues with basic socialization, and those that keep their relationship problems hidden away for fear of judgement. I am looking to mend and improve relationships through the wonders of bedroom adventures and communication. I bring the marriage counselor and the sex therapist out of the office and into your own home.

What led you to this line of work?

I started out my career in geriatrics. I watched and studied couples that had amazing love stories. I asked them their secrets. The best part of talking to couples at the end of their lives, is they have no filter. No shame or embarrassment in spilling all of their dirty little secrets and tips! I was blessed to be raised in a home where love, honor and respect were not only expected, but shown through the way they interacted with each other. I was brought up to be proud of myself, have self worth, and not to be ashamed of my sexuality.

Have you faced opposition and criticism for your career choice?

At times, I have. Being on the Internet, I’ve had questions from all over the world. Not always polite or respectful. Some women have been harder on me than any man ever would. While I have modern views on being creative, I have old-fashioned views on self respect and lasting relationships. Everyone’s grandmother has at one time has said, “Why buy the cow, when the milk is free?” in one variation or another. I live by this. We live in a world where women are sending naked selfies to a man before he even takes her on a date. I shout out, sometimes loudly, this has got to stop! Respect yourself and respect your future partner. Find love, and build an amazing home with a strong foundation and room to grow… and never stop growing.

What do you feel you can offer that a cousellor in a traditional face-to-face setting cannot?

By talking to me from their home, computer or smart phone, it takes away the nervousness of an office visit, keeps them in your comfort zone, and works around their schedule. Men find it much easier to share their inadequacies incognito, and in turn women aren’t holding in the questions they really want to ask. I can get to the root of their marital problems much more rapidly than a therapist in an office. Where in some face-to-face occasions it can take several sessions to even crack the ice, I can usually get the deeply rooted problem out in the open immediately. They feel safe and secure when their identity is protected.

Do you feel that people respond better to a woman than they would to a man in the same job?

That’s a good question. If you are compassionate, a peacemaker, creative, knowledgeable, and have the communication skills needed, it doesn’t matter what your gender is. It’s all about how people respond to you. I believe that all little girls can become superheroes… but so can all little boys.

Thankfully, we have come a long way since the days when women were told to lie back and think of England, or just put up with it. Do you believe that relationships between the sexes have developed more positively since then?

In the modern world, absolutely! Men and women are taking active roles to please each other and themselves. Relationships are growing in and out of the bedroom. Of course, in some areas of the world we are sadly still behind, but we are on the right path. Recently, female genital mutilation was banned in Nigeria. It’s steps like these that bring hope to the rest of the world.

Now tell us about your writing. I understand that your book is on the same subject as your business. When did you start writing?

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. Love poems to my school crush, songs, letters to my favourite authors and athletes. Building a fantasy world for myself and diving in.

That sounds like a familiar tale. Now, about your writing technique. Despite sex being a natural act, yours is still a subject many consider taboo, or wish to talk about only in clinical terms. Do you find you have to choose your words carefully, or have you already concluded that you can’t win everyone over?

The opposite from choosing my words carefully! I’ve found if I write in technical terms, I lose the focus of my reader. I’ve actually had to learn to turn the potty mouth on! Say the words, let yourself get embarrassed… and let that grow to excited, and be passionate with your lover.

Do you see your writing as a promotional tool for your business, or do you see it as more than that? What do you hope people will take from it?

Strengthening relationships is my business. I hope that couples take the knowledge that nothing should be off limits in their own bedroom. That relationships should not be left to grow cold. If you are lonely as you lie beside someone, it is time to change. I am here to help.

Thank you for talking to us today, and we wish you all the best with your work.

Thank you, it’s been truly my pleasure.

The Short Story Lady

Here at the Conclave we talked to Carol Ferro, known as the Short Story Lady, about her work and her stories.

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Thankyou for being here, Carol. Now, to start with, you call yourself the ‘Short Story Lady’. What does that mean?

I love short stories, be they traditional fairytales or snippets of observational prose. I am also only 5 feet tall, so the name ‘Short Story Lady’ is a dangling modifier, as both the stories and the storyteller are short!

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Very clever! I do like plays on language like that. Let’s hear more about your work. Tell us about your book “Memoirs of a Madcap Cyclist”. What made you write a full-length book? Do you see it as a departure from your short story work, or its progression?

“Memoirs of a Madcap Cyclist” is a collection of 100 stories, each exactly 100 words long, 12442773_579105965579451_400392435_nall on the topic of cycling. I wrote it because I wanted to combine my love of cycling with my tendency to narrate my life. Most of the stories are based on things I noticed while out on my bike, memories of childhood cycling, and tales collected from my cyclist friends. It’s very much a progression of my short story work, taking the short story genre to its logical conclusion. I enjoyed working to an exact word count, it was interesting making each word  matter in each story.

100 times 100 words! How intriguing. What do you hope readers will take from it?

I hope readers will find the book fascinating, entertaining and edifying in equal measure. All aspects of cycling are in there, from balance bikes to racing trikes, green lights to green tarmac, there’s something in there for everyone. It’s a window into my cycling experience, and while I might not be the fastest cyclist on the road, I definitely have fun on the bike.

It sounds like fun! Did you choose to go with a traditional publisher?

I actually teamed up with another local storyteller called Sharon Richards, who wanted to move into publishing. She set up her own publishing company and I wrote its first title, “Drabble Folk and Fairytales” to get the ball rolling. It was a steep learning curve for both of us, but having self-published my first book as an ebook gave me the confidence to make the move into print. I formatted several books for Sharon, getting far more “hands-on” than I would have been able to with a larger or more established publisher.

The publishing sounds like an adventure in itself. Quite a daunting prospect! I am glad to see it hasn’t put you off. Tell us about other work you have written.

My first book is a self-published Young Adult novella called “The Strangeling’s Tale”. Each chapter is a self-contained story which weaves into a larger tale, reaching a gripping conclusion. Transformation, love, loss, bravery and sacrifice abound in this gem of a book.

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My Second book, “Drabble Folk and Fairy Tales”, contains all the fairytales you’ll remember from childhood, a few you won’t have heard of and a few I made up myself. A Drabble is a story containing exactly 100 words, and this book has 100 of them.

Another 100 times 100! I spot a recurring theme here. What is your next project? What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently working on a prequel to “The Strangeling’s Tale”, but I keep getting distracted by storytelling bookings at schools, libraries and events. It’s tough being in such demand, but I can’t let my public down! My next big project is an event at local libraries to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Roald Dahl’s birth. I’m in charge of co-ordinating all the storytelling, craft activities, quizzes and costumes, and chasing ever elusive funding streams. Still, if it’s anything like as popular as my previous library events, the libraries will be buzzing with activity.

I must say that sounds like a lot of fun and I wish you every success with it. Thankyou for sharing your story with us.

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Carol’s work is available here

And you can find out more about her life as the Short Story Lady here

Interview with Author Sharon Tregenza

Today I am excited to welcome author Sharon Tregenza to the Conclave of Sappho. Sharon Tregenza is the author of The Shiver Stone and Tarantula Tide, two adventure books aimed at pre-teens. My own children have read Sharon’s work and enjoyed it enormously, and I highly recommend these books. Welcome, Sharon!

SHARON TREGENZA -PROFILE

First of all – tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?
I read prolifically and I’m a big Netflix fan. Good drama is always a thrill. I enjoy education for is own sake too and recently completed a second Masters degree. I have a wide circle of family and friends – so I love having people stay.
When did you start writing? Or have you always done so?
I’ve always written is the pat answer but I began writing for publication many years ago – mostly stories for magazines and competitions.
Have you written other novels/works that have not been published?
Odd you should ask that. Many years ago a big publisher showed a great deal of interest in my first children’s book – there was even talk of an animated film. When it was suddenly dropped I was heart-broken. I tucked it away in a dusty corner of my computer and forgot about it. Recently I’ve taken it out, dusted it off, and taken another look at it. I think it still has potential so I’m reworking it and will see what my agent thinks.
Very pleased to hear that, and I look forward to hearing more about it. Now, onto your published work. What inspired you to write The Shiver Stone and Tarantula Tide?
I remember vividly the influence books had on me when I was eight to twelve years old. I wanted to recreate that myself. Both of those books have the sense of mystery and adventure that thrilled me then.
Do the characters in Tarantula Tide live through the adventure you dreamt of having as a young girl?
Being terrified of spiders I would have been much more like Jack than Izzie!
What about the location – does Shetland mean anything special to you?
I only visited once many years ago – my husband worked in the oil industry – but the strange treeless landscape had a deep effect on me.
You seem to have an affinity with nature: animals are portrayed as suffering in The Shiver Stone – a pony and a dog. Is there a message you are trying to put across here?THE SHIVER STONE COVER
There is an element of anti-cruelty to creatures in both of those books. Something I feel very strongly about.
The underlying topics in your books, such as dark secrets and dangerous adventures, are not simple matters. What do you think about introducing children to these themes?
I think it’s important for children to explore different themes and experience (even if it is from the safety of their own homes). Secrets and danger have has been an important part of children’s literature.
How about the level of vocabulary in your books? Do you think we should introduce children to more advanced vocabulary, or is it best to keep it simple?
“Never write down to kids” is a lesson frequently reiterated by children’s authors past and present and I couldn’t agree more. I always found that books that challenged as well as entertained stayed with me longest. Learning new words and expressions is a thrilling part of the challenge.
What is the overall impression you hope readers will take from your books? Are there lessons for children to learn?
There are always lessons for children to learn from books but hopefully they are absorbed as a natural part of the reading process – not imparted as “wisdom” to be acquired.
What’s next? Are you planning a sequel for each one?
Hmm, there’s plenty of “next” happening. I am writing two more stand-alone mystery books and I also have a meeting with a big publisher coming up to discuss the possibility of a picture book (something I’ve always wanted to do). Exciting times.

Thankyou, Sharon, and I wish you the best with your upcoming projects.

The Shiver Stone was highly commended for the Welsh Children’s Book Award 2015 and is available here.

Tarantula Tide was the winner of the Heart of Hawick Children’s Book Award 2010 and is available here.

How to Make Science Child-Friendly

We are delighted to present an article by Samantha Gouldson, science writer, author and blogger, on writing about science for children.

In May 2014 I was approached by Lynn Schreiber, the founder and editor of the online children’s magazine Jump!. We’d been chatting on Twitter for a while and during one of our conversations I’d explained the concept of gravitational waves, which had recently been in the news. Lynn asked if I’d be interested in writing occasional articles about science for the magazine, which is aimed at tweens and early teens. Sure, I said. No problem. Never one to turn down a challenge, I decided to write the first article about the latest developments in quantum entanglement. If I could make quantum physics understandable for 8-14 year olds, I reasoned, I could explain anything.

That article was published in early June 2014. Since then I’ve written many more articles for Jump! magazine, covering subjects as varied as space exploration, climate change, medical advances and how fast Santa actually has to fly in order to make all his deliveries (about 39,000 miles per minute, if you were wondering). I’ve also written science articles for my own website, for Jump! Parents and recently for the Let Clothes Be Clothes campaign.

 

Writing about science for children is both very easy and incredibly difficult. If you ignore all the specialised terminology and acronyms, most science is actually fairly simple when you get down to the basics. Explaining the basic ideas is easy; once I’ve done that, explaining the more complex science built upon them is also pretty easy. The difficulties arise when I need to do both simultaneously, while also keeping my writing concise and interesting. There’s usually a lot of drafting and re-drafting involved, as well as many cups of tea!

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When I’m writing I try to imagine the article as a conversation with a child; I often divide it into sections, each headed by a question that a child would be likely to ask at that point. This keeps me focused and ensures that I cover everything relevant without becoming too long-winded. I use illustrations, diagrams and photographs, both to aid the explanation and to break up the article so it doesn’t seem intimidating to less able readers.

I’m inspired by scientific magazines and websites as well as the news, but most of my work stems from questions I’m asked by children. Some of them are asked in person, some via Twitter or my Facebook page, and some via friends who are teachers. Children are naturally curious with a voracious appetite for knowledge, and I love helping them learn.

 

Samantha Gouldson is the author of 12 Science Words That Don’t Mean What You Think They Do and 12 Awesome Women of Science You’ve Never Heard Of

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