Autumn is coming

Yesterday, I noticed the leaves were starting to fall from the trees outside our house. It might still be August, but the scent of autumn is starting to filter through on the breeze.

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Autumn is my favourite season. Cosy throws, fluffy slippers, hot chocolate. Crunchy leaves, Halloween, darkening evenings. And, of course, curling up with a good book. Autumn is the best time for getting stuck into stories, being frightened by a ghost story or thrilled by a thriller.

Each year, I try to come up with a list of books to read during autumn. A couple of years ago, I got stuck into Stephen King. The year before that, I discovered his son, Joe Hill. This year, I’m lining up a bunch of thrillers. Here are my recommendations for autumn 2017.

Last Seen Alive by Claire Douglas

Little Sister by Isabel Ashdown

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The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall

The Upstairs Room by Kate Murray-Browne

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Slade House by David Mitchell

The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

I Am Behind You by John Ajvide Lindqvist

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What’s on your autumn reading list? Let me know in the comments below!

Don’t Close Your Eyes by Holly Seddon

I review Don’t Close Your Eyes by Holly Seddon.

Twin sisters Robin and Sarah haven’t spoken in years.

Robin can’t leave her house. A complete shut-in, she spends her days spying on her neighbors, subtly meddling in their lives. But she can’t keep her demons out forever. Someone from her past has returned, and is desperate to get inside.

Sarah can’t go home. Her husband has kicked her out, forcibly denying her access to their toddler. Sarah will do anything to get her daughter back, but she’s unraveling under the mounting pressure of concealing the dark secrets of her past. And her lies are catching up to her.

The novel takes readers back in time to witness the complex family dynamics that formed Robin and Sarah into the emotionally damaged, estranged young women they’ve become. As the gripping and intricate layers of their shared past are slowly peeled away, the shocks and twists will keep readers breathless long after the final page.

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I read Try Not To Breathe by Holly Seddon when it came out, so I knew I’d want to grab a copy of Don’t Close Your Eyes. Seddon writes classic thrillers as if it’s as easy as breathing – and perhaps it is, for her. She’s that rare talent who deserves all the credit she gets, and more.

Delving into dark subjects such as sexual assault, domestic violence, and suicide, Seddon doesn’t pull any punches. Every character is fully formed, fleshed out into life, and every incident is thrilling, engaging. Robin in particular is so real, it’s hard not to relate to her.

I love books about dysfunctional families – coming from one myself, I know just how twisted it can get. When Robin and Sarah’s mum has an affair with Callum’s dad, everything disintegrates, and their families merge into one big mess. Robin and Callum stay with her dad and his mum, and Sarah moves out to Atlanta with her mum and Callum’s dad. The distance between the sisters grows, in emotional as well as literal terms. The tangles web of their mingled families gets tighter and tighter, until something has to give.

I loved the way Seddon wrote this, engaging the reader by giving snippets of the past, interspersed with chapters from today. This style of writing, although not unique, is always enticing, and Seddon does it well. Overall, I’d say Don’t Close Your Eyes is another winning thriller.

Many thanks to the author, publisher, & NetGalley for providing me with a free review copy.

Goodreads

The Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick

I review The Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick.

Now anyone can have a baby. With FullLife’s safe and affordable healthcare plan, why risk a natural birth?

Without the pouch, Eva might not have been born. And yet she has sacrificed her career, and maybe even her relationship, campaigning against FullLife’s biotech baby pouches. Despite her efforts, everyone prefers a world where women are liberated from danger and constraint and all can share the joy of childbearing. Perhaps FullLife has helped transform society for the better? But just as Eva decides to accept this, she discovers that something strange is happening at FullLife.

Piotr hasn’t seen Eva in years. Not since their life together dissolved in tragedy. But Piotr’s a journalist who has also uncovered something sinister about FullLife. What drove him and Eva apart may just bring them back together, as they search for the truth behind FullLife’s closed doors, and face a truth of their own.

A beautiful story about family, loss and what our future might hold, The Growing Season is an original and powerful novel by a rising talent.

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The Growing Season is a book that looks at motherhood from every feminist perspective. With the advent of the pouch, a way of growing babies outside of a female body, heterosexual couples can share the load of pregnancy, reaching for true equality. Gay couples and infertile women can also experience pregnancy in a way they never could have before. With your male partner sharing the pregnancy, women are no longer seen as a burden, a risk.

But there’s a darker side to this equality. With the pregnancy occurring outside of the woman’s body, what do they need women for? Eva – and before her, her mother, Avigail – campaigned against the pouch for this very reason. Arguing for choice, for the respect of motherhood not to be taken away from women, Eva and Avigail fight for what they believe to be a woman’s right. They fail to acknowledge, at least for the most part, how the pouch helps those who cannot have children naturally, until later on, when Eva manages to adopt a wider view.

The Growing Season takes multiple viewpoints into account. Women are also encouraged to transfer their unwanted foetuses to the pouch, rather than opt for abortion. This would satisfy the pro-life groups (or anti-woman, as I prefer to call them), but the issue of funding these unwanted children rears its ugly head. Many pro-life groups dedicate so much time to telling women what they can and cannot do with their own bodies, they fail to address just how the children will be looked after throughout their lives – and who will be responsible.

This is a complicated story, not least because of the subject material. We are getting closer to developing a way for a baby to be grown outside of the female body. While this is a positive step for some groups, it might not be seen as such by others. There will always be clashing perspectives when it comes to something like this, and no one of them is more right – more righteous – than the other.

Sedgwick has taken a common, relevant theme, and turned it into an engaging, dystopian fiction. It’s real enough to be relatable, understandable, but still with that reassuring distance, almost like we’re holding the future at arms length. Read it.

Goodreads

The Battle For ‘Ms’: Why are we so obsessed with titles?

Titles. For some reason, Brits think they’re incredibly important – especially when it comes to women. But why are we so obsessed with determining whether a woman is married or not?

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The above picture outlines the conversation I had this afternoon with a customer service agent while attempting to renew my car insurance. He was going through my details before generating a quote, and decided that ‘Ms’ is the wrong title for a married woman. He was convinced that ‘Ms’ is only for divorced women, and that’s “just the way of things over here”. I want to challenge this misconception, and ask: what’s so wrong with using ‘Ms’?

“Ms.” began to be used as early as the 17th century, along with “Miss” and “Mrs.”, as a title derived from the then formal “Mistress”, which, like Mister, did not originally indicate marital status.
– Spender, Dale (1981). Man Made Language. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 978-0-7100-0675-2. From Wikipedia.

Simply, I use ‘Ms’ because I do not want my marital status to be known or inferred by my title. My marital status is irrelevant to most things, and I will disclose whether or not I am married to the appropriate channels, but I will continue to use ‘Ms’ for all correspondence, and everything that requires a title.

I’m not entirely sure what’s so difficult to understand about this. Boys are known as ‘Master’ when they’re boys, but by the time they reach early teens, they become ‘Mr’ until they die. Girls are known as ‘Miss’ until they get married, whereupon it’s expected that they will become ‘Mrs’ (and take their husband’s surname, but that’s a whole nother argument). Why does a man have his title changed when he reaches apparent maturity, but a woman’s title is only changed when she marries (or divorces)?

Let me be clear: Women are more than their relationship to men. As a professional in her mid-twenties, ‘Miss’ seems rather young and immature, whereas ‘Ms’ feels more appropriate. Some people do like to use ‘Mrs’ once they marry, and that’s fine too, but, to me, using ‘Ms’ means I am more than my relationship status. I’m simply an adult woman.

This isn’t the first time this has happened to me, nor is this a new, modern feminist issue. Many women have shared their own ridiculous stories – one explained that their bank wouldn’t let them use ‘Ms’ until they saw their divorce papers, for fuck sake. A couple of members of my own family abused and disowned me because I complained about being referred to as ‘Mrs Husband’s First Name, Husband’s Surname’. There’s so much wrong with that, it’s unreal.msmissmrs

Last year, I was speaking to our utilities company, and mentioned that they couldn’t schedule a call back on that particular date, as I was getting married. I had been using the title ‘Mx’, which is a newer, gender-neutral term. Once the call was finished and I received some confirmation emails, I realised that the customer service agent had changed my title to ‘Miss’, because I was, at the time, unmarried, and they deemed that title to be the correct one. Are these people fucking insane? In what world is it okay to impose your own ideas and beliefs on others (paying customers, too!), and amend their details without asking them? Hell, I wasn’t even informed that my title was being changed, let alone asked.

This absolutely shouldn’t be an issue. If I’m speaking to a company, or anyone really, and I give my title as ‘Ms’, they should damn well accept it, and say no more on the subject. I certainly don’t expect to be argued with on the subject of my own damn title. My question is this: why do you care so much? Let me choose my own title, and be done with it. Until we afford women the same respect as men – and yes, even in little, seemingly insignificant things like this – we will never achieve equality.

S.N. Lemoing talks about the problem of finding a book cover

As an indie author, I have to do a lot of things by myself, and finding a good cover is one of our worst nightmares – unless you’re skilled at graphic design. For those of us who aren’t, we have some solutions: pre-made covers which can be affordable, or attempting photomontage.

 As I write about strong female characters, I have been dealing with even more hard choices each time I have to create a cover for my novels. First, I was browsing through a lot of pre-made covers in many genres: fantasy, thriller, drama, chick-lit, etc. There are some very beautiful works, some are as worthy as covers created by huge publishing houses.

However, it’s clear they’re all in need of a feminist helping hand.

The women represented on them are all overly feminine, wearing gowns and high heels. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, but not all women are like this, and these different women should be represented too.

Moreover, all the models look fragile, strike unnatural poses like holding their bare shoulder while looking away. They all seem to be in waiting, probably for Prince Charming or a bad boy who will harass them.

And this is when they’re not naked, offering themselves to the male gaze – or simply dead bodies.

It’s striking how male characters are not illustrated the same way, just as in the movies, on TV, or in any media that we know. Have you ever seen a cover or a film poster showing a man holding his shoulder with a sad patient look, longing for the girl of his dreams? We’re still waiting.

The thing is, for my first novel, I was looking for female warriors with realistic and practical outfits, but I only found two women, hypersexualized, wearing the same stuff we can see on The Hawkeye Initiative.

Then, I was looking for a determined Mexican woman who’s also a police officer, but could only find two Latina characters (yes, because there is also a lack of ethnic diversity): one who was sexy and passive, lying on a bed, and another one who was crying.

For another novel, I was looking for a confident plus size girl, but as the models on the pictures are all tall and thin, and mainly white, nothing matched. Or the few bigger women that could be found looked passive and/or hypersexualized too, which wasn’t the subject of my story at all.

Representation matters, and we need more diverse pictures and illustrations. We need women who aren’t scared, women with confident stares, women who can actually wear clothes and look powerful thanks to independent and self-assured positions. And also different body types.

We need different male models too, because as you scroll the pages, all you can see are bodybuilders, flexing muscles, and it shouldn’t be a standard either. There should be no standard.

S.N. Lemoing is the author of Powerful – Tome 1: The Realm of Harcilor. She was born in 1987 near Paris, France. S N Lemoing

She graduated in Cinematography and English, studied philosophy, literature and lately, at University, she had the chance to follow classes about the Image of Women in the Media as well as the Female Gaze: Women directors. She then worked as a PA for films and TV, and also wrote, directed and produced episodes for 3 webseries and short films.

You can read more about Lemoing, and her book, here.

Cornish Writing Challenge: Meet runner-up Liz Carr

The first Cornish Writing Challenge ran from April-June, and drew in a variety of excellent short stories. Read on to find out more about runner-up Liz Carr, and read her submission, A Mere Mortal.

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Liz Carr has been a writer and editor in higher education, for charities, and commercial organisations since 1990. She has also taught online writing to university staff who are non-professional writers, and been a non-fiction ghost-writer.

In 2012, one of her poems, On Debut, was shortlisted for the Australia Cricket Poetry Prize and published in the anthology. She has also organised and taken part in writers’ retreats in Cornwall for Fictionfire.

She can mostly be found on the A30 travelling between her home near Heathrow airport where she lives with her husband, and St Ives, where she keeps watch over two small cottages.

What inspired you to start writing?

I started writing when I was very young, inspired by the Bronte sisters and the tiny books they produced as children. I used to make my own. As a kid, books were my bribe. I had books instead of fireworks, books after doctors’ appointments, book tokens for presents and, of course, the weekly trip to the library. I’d stagger out with the maximum number allowed and I’d always finish them before they were due back.

I started getting serious about my creative writing about six years ago, then realised how little I knew. It’s definitely a lifelong quest.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Don’t be surprised when it gets ‘…difficult, difficult, lemon difficult’ (with thanks to In the Loop). I thought creative writing would be easy. I’d written material for years – for other people – so I presumed it would be the same thing but I’d just be making it up.

You are making it up, but it’s extraordinarily hard to match the brilliance and insight that’s in your head with the terrible, clichéd nonsense that ends up on the page. I’ve also realised that all writers experience this gap. Simon Mawer responded to me in a tweet, saying ‘hard writing makes easy reading.’ This is the best advice I’ve had, and it’s what I’d pass on.

Tell us more about A Mere Mortal. Where did the inspiration come from?

A Mere Mortal is loosely based on the legend of the Mermaid of Zennor. I had an idea of switching the sexes so that it’s a woman who comes to Cornwall to escape and finds Llyr, king of the sea. I imagined her life in an isolated cottage perched on the edge of the fictional hamlet, Pool Cove, which exists as the picture in the competition. Music and dance also inspire me, so they had to be included.

What is your connection to Cornwall?

Cornwall has been pulse throughout my life. We used to go to Newquay for holidays as my father was a keen surfer. About twenty years ago, I started coming to St Ives to stay with my dearest friend. Three years ago, my husband and I bought a tiny cottage in Lelant, and its next door neighbour the following year. I manage the rentals and get down there whenever I can. I find that little piece of Cornwall uplifting and it fuels my creativity.

What’s next for you?

I’m writing a novel, set in 1975 Lancashire and Barbados. Racism, the desire for fame at any price, and organised crime all feature as themes. I’m plodding towards the end of the second draft! I’ve also got several ideas for shorter pieces lurking just below the surface and I expect them to make an appearance very soon.

What are you currently reading?

Her Husband’s Lover by Julia Crouch and No Other Darkness by Sarah Hilary. They’re crime/psychological thrillers and both authors are part of the Killer Women group, which promotes women’s crime fiction. I’m also reading Into the Woods by John Yorke, a great book about why stories work and how we structure them.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Exploring new places – for some reason I’m drawn to islands; cooking and music. I’m also a great cricket fan, so in the summer the radio is switched between BBC R3 and Test Match Special.

Lastly, and most importantly, jam or cream first?

Ooh… always jam. It’s the Cornish way. But I’m non-traditional about the flavour. I prefer raspberry!

You can find Liz on Twitter: @elbowframe15. Read on for Liz’s excellent submission, A Mere Mortal.

 

 

It was the music that started it. That and the dancing.

She had left her old life in London behind. Intrusive and relentless. She needed a rest. To stop once and for all the exhaustion that started early in the morning, plagued every movement and never left her alone. Her new life was in Cornwall, with its clear light and healing sea.

The cottage sat between the tidepool and the Atlantic, on a long spit of rock that had managed to green itself, at least part way round the house. Solid square granite. It had two faces: during the day she used the rooms that faced the world; at night she looked seawards to the ocean which soughed and whispered to her.

Pool Cove formed an enclosed harbour, reminding her of the hurricane holes of the Caribbean. It folded around itself, protecting residents and boats from whatever was out there. The old wooden jetty stretched across the far end, doubling as a makeshift marina. Fishermen’s sheds crowded along its length. Nothing picturesque here. Modest dwellings clustered on the opposite side of the cove, but in her cottage, she was apart from them. From everyone.

She did mix. On her terms. There was a part-time seasonal job, selling locally-made arts and crafts to bemused tourists who had wandered into the hamlet by accident. Her music played in the shop and every day she selected composers who fitted her mood. Anyone from Bach to Britten, Mozart to Mahler; all found their way onto her playlists.

At home though, she favoured the quiet hypnotism of Gymnopédie No 1 by Erik Satie, which she played all the time. She kicked off her shoes and danced to the simple piano lines, enjoying the sensation of cool stone flags on bare feet.

Every evening she danced and rediscovered a love that had lain dormant for many years. She left the curtains open. There was no one to see her. Nothing but the occasional cry of a herring gull and waves, washing onto the pebbles below.

As the new moon started its rise, she caught a flicker of something out of the corner of her eye. The bottom edge of the window was illuminated for the briefest moment. She checked. There was nothing. And yet she knew it was something. Or someone.

‘You imagined it, Mattie,’ said Jane, the shop’s owner, the next day.

‘Perhaps it was a boat.’ She was now feeling a bit foolish.

‘Well – serves you right for not closing the curtains. I wouldn’t want to be in that cottage on my tod with everything in full view.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Nothing. Don’t look so worried. I’m just saying I wouldn’t like to be on my own stuck out there,’ Jane smiled. ‘I like being surrounded by people, is all.’

‘Well I’m enjoying being antisocial at the moment.’ She went back to sorting the cards.

The next evening, the Satie was on again. She wondered whether her visitor would reappear. It didn’t bother her – she was intrigued. There was a small sound outside, almost like the sea sighing. Maybe it was the sea. She turned the door knob as quietly as possible, inching the door open just enough to get one eye’s view.

Picked out against the quarter light and fuzzy-felt moon was a man standing with his back to the door. There was a luminous quality about him that made her blink.

‘May I help you?’ She stood square in the doorway.

‘I really hope so,’ he said as he turned around.

She had never seen anyone so beautiful. Pale turquoise eyes, shoulder length gold and silver hair. His clothes were strange: a loose tunic over a full-length garment that shimmered as he moved.

‘I have heard that lovely music for many evenings now and I have watched you dancing. I wanted to meet you,’ he said simply.

A breath caught in her throat. She swallowed it down. ‘Well. Hello then. I’m Mathilda Trewella’.

‘Good evening Mathilda Trewella. I’m Llyr.’ He inclined his head.

‘Mattie for short. Your name — is it Welsh?’ she said, immediately regretting giving voice to the naïve thought.

‘Actually, it is old Cornish.’ His smile reached inside her, filling her with warmth and fluidity like a hot summer sun on cold winter bones.

‘Would you like to come in?’ She stepped aside.

‘No. I am sorry I cannot. Maybe another time. For now it is enough that we have spoken.’ Llyr turned away and before she could say anything more, he had crossed the small patch of grass and disappeared into the thick darkness.

All next day she wondered about Llyr. Who was he? What was his interest in her? She asked around, but no one knew him, unusual for such a tight-knit Cornish village.

It was stuffy in the shop. Her clothes stuck to her and there was a damp patch in the middle of her back. The London headache came back. For once the afternoon dragged and she was desperate to get outside and away from the rhythmic clanking that accompanied moored fishing boats. She needed to cool down. A swim would help.

The sea calmed her. There was a freedom being in the water, weightless and floating on her back, watching birds wheeling and moving through the sky. She began to feel drowsy, rocked by the regular movement, when the surface of the of the water broke in a spray of sparkling drops. Llyr was there, beside her.

They swam together, floating when she grew tired, talking all the time, then moving together in a watery dance. A pair of sea creatures, gleaming and sleek. She barely registered the change from day to night. When she shivered slightly, Llyr wrapped himself round her until she felt warm again.

‘Mattie, come with me and see where I live,’ he whispered. As he held her, he dived. She started to panic, struggling to hold her breath. Being underwater scared her.

He whispered again. ‘Just calm yourself… everything will be all right. Trust me.’ How could that be?

Water rushed at her, sounds became muffled and she heard her own heartbeat. Seconds later they were in an underwater cave, carpeted in soft sand, fronded by ferns and kelp. She could breathe. Pulling away from Llyr, she turned to look at him properly. Was she was dreaming? He had a man’s body but a gleaming fish tail.

‘Welcome to my world – the world under the sea.’

Somewhere far off, she could hear ambient music. It was the Satie, but as she’d never heard it before, played on unknown stringed instruments.

‘Mattie Trewella, dance with me.’ Llyr swooped and dived, turned and danced. Graceful and beautiful in his element, gold and silver hair flying behind him. ‘Stay with me here,’ he cried as his tail flicked and flashed around her. ‘Stay and be my muse. We can make such music together.’

‘I can’t.’ She was laughing and crying at once, confused but exhilarated. ‘I want to, but how can I? I’m a mere mortal.’

Llyr paused beside her, stroking her forehead, while his other hand stroked her back. She let herself relax against his mesmerising hands. Her eyes started to close. She began to feel sleepy. So sleepy.

Something was shining through her closed eyes. The sun. She was sprawled in bed, tangled in the sheet. She put a hand up to her hair. It was damp and sea-salty. It really had happened.

No one believed her of course. Not even Jane, who embraced the alternative and the mystical.

‘You’d probably overdone the sun and had a crazy dream,’ she said.

But Mattie knew it was real – that Llyr was real.

They have been together for three moons now. He has been to her cottage since the first time, but not for long and only on the flood tide. The effort is too much for him. On the ebb tide, they go swimming, down into his world, his world of sea colours and unknowable music. His lovely world of tranquillity. She lives for those times.

When they are apart, he still speaks to her. If the sea is stormy, she knows Llyr is making music which is deep and low. If the sea is kind, his music is light and high. They say the fishermen know Llyr’s music.

Mattie has made a decision. Tonight she is going to stay with him. For ever. Down there is where she belongs.

the end

Cornish Writing Challenge: Meet runner-up Terry Newman

The first Cornish Writing Challenge ran from April-June, and drew in a variety of excellent short stories. Read on to find out more about runner-up Terry Newman, and read his submission, Time.

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Terry (aka Dr Tel) Newman is a former research scientist who came into his second career via comedy writing for the BBC and C4, working with some of the UK’s top comedy talent. This soon developed into a fully-fledged occupation and he’s now hung up his microscope for good. Since waving goodbye to the lab he’s written and edited extensively, drama and comedy, for film, stage, television, radio and New Media throughout the world, as well as lecturing in scriptwriting at the university of Brighton. He is much in demand as a script doctor, specialising in structure and dialogue. ‘Detective Strongoak and the Case of the Dead Elf’, his first novel, a comedy detective fantasy, is published by Harper Collins.

What inspired you to start writing?

Are you sure you really want to know? You really, really want to know? It’s a long story! OK, on your head be it.

I have always made up stories, even before I could write them down, I ran them through in my head. Short ‘imagination films’ featuring many of my favourite TV, film, and comic book characters. With this start I consequently did well at ‘English’ at school (despite a cavalier approach to spelling), and when careers talk time came around the career’s master pointed me towards drama college or film school, where I could indulge this passion and possibly become a dissolute waster along the way.

‘No’, I said. ‘I’m going to be a scientist and save the world.’ I mean, I could always write great stories in my spare time, couldn’t I?

I began writing my first full story, a comedy detective fantasy: ‘A DEAD ELF’, featuring dwarf detective Nicely Strongoak, while still a biologist, as some light relief from the chore of PhD writing. It was seeing a sign for an ‘Elf Service Station’ that got the imagination firing on all cylinders.

The first incarnation was as a radio series. The BBC producer who read the script was very nice about it, but pointed out that the BBC had something similar in the mix and why didn’t I turn it into a novel? Unfortunately I had that PhD to finish and then papers to write and a chap called Terry Pratchett came along and basically did pretty much exactly what I wanted to do with fantasy. So, I put ‘A DEAD ELF’ away in the computer’s bottom drawer, but Nicely wouldn’t go away – in fact a second story gradually emerged, but this time there was lot more detective and less satirical fantasy.

When (still an electron microscopist) I began writing comedy for a friend’s stage show I had a vague idea that this might be way to find an agent who could help me with a publisher for ‘A DEAD ELF’, which was now beginning to look much more like a novel. However, a few months later I was surprised to find myself sneaking out of the lab to work at Broadcasting House writing for two of the BBC’s topical radio shows: ‘Week Ending’ and ‘The News Huddlines’.

I ended up with some dozen commissions in total and jokes and sketches on TV’s ‘Rory Bremner’ show. What had begun as a way of finding a publisher was now the main preoccupation. Good job too, as to my surprise the worlds of comedy writing and book publishing have very little in common and so ‘A DEAD ELF’ had yet to see the light of day. Next, I next tried my hand at playwriting, got my first commission and had 3 shows on at the Edinburgh Fringe in the same year. One went on to be performed in New York. One thing I was sure about, this was now a lot more fun than science.

I started writing film scripts as well and began helping other people with their work and even started teaching scriptwriting. I went properly freelance and closed the lab door for good. And then, strangely, I became university lecturer again – this time in ‘writing’, not cell biology!

Still none of it had helped me find a home for ‘A DEAD ELF’! So when, working now full time as a writer and script doctor, I saw a post about Harper Voyager’s Digital First Initiative I emailed them ‘A DEAD ELF’ and basically forgot I had done so. After all, I was writing my first musical now!

Some time later I decided to self-publish ‘A DEAD ELF’. Two weeks after I had accomplished this, Harper Voyager contacted me to say that they wanted to publish my book. I unself-published ‘A DEAD ELF’.

My book was e-published by HV, with minimal publicity, as ‘Detective Strongoak and the Case of Dead Elf’. A title I hated. The book didn’t shake the foundations of the publishing world – but some months later (after the paperback was published as a POD) somebody at Harper Collins USA saw something in my book and it was mentioned on a promotional ‘Bookperk’ email to Harper Collins readers. Within 2 weeks ‘Detective Strongoak and the Case of Dead Elf’ was a Kindle #1 Bestseller in the Epic Fantasy genre – it was outselling Tolkien and Martin! I got a banner from Amazon to this effect as well.

However, with no follow-up publicity the sales couldn’t keep going at that rate, but I was now inspired to finish Nicely’s next adventure confident that this would sell even better. My editor was looking forward to reading the book so I dropped everything else and got the manuscript off to her.

I waited, and I waited. I sent off emails. I started book 3 still waiting. Eventually I heard my editor was off sick. I carried on waiting. I contacted senior people and was told that it would be read. About a year after submission, pretty much out of the blue, I received an email from a p.a. to say that ‘because of lack of capacity’ Harper Voyager would not be able to do book 2 justice and so were not going to publish it.

And that’s after a relatively successful first book!

So here I am (A Kindle #1 Best-selling Author) still trying to find a permanent home for Nicely – and I still don’t have an agent to help. Apparently they don’t like unspecialised writers who write in different media.

I said it was a long story.

What do you wish you’d known about the publishing process?

Publishing is a badly run business with no rhyme or reason and to try to sort out any logic will only give you a headache and an irritable bowel.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Advice from me you want? How about stay in science?

Seriously, aspiring ones – don’t write unless you have to! Unless it’s such a part of your being that you have an uncontrollable need to tell stories. If so then nothing I say will dissuade you, but at least make sure you enjoy the trip!

If you want to write something, do it! Don’t listen to anybody who says differently. I’ve had award-winning plays, worked with comedy heroes, been involved in an award-winning feature film, had my own comedy series on TV, written animated cartoons, seen a director ruin my (co-created) musical, appeared in a major documentary, and had a #1 Kindle Epic Fantasy Bestseller. They can’t take that away from me.

Tell us more about Time. Where did the inspiration come from?

The inspiration for ‘Time’ was of course the photograph of the Cornish cliff-top walk. I was immediately taken back to an incident that happened to me while walking along a similar cliff. I wanted to relate the story, but even more than that I wanted to create an atmosphere – the atmosphere of ‘unreality’ that now hangs over this episode from my past – dreamlike and unforgettable. Also, after writing so much that might be described as genre I wanted to try something a little more mainstream and serious. I think I am getting there.

What is your connection to Cornwall?

Cornwall was first and foremost all about childhood holidays! Getting in the car in the dark at some unearthly hour to try to make it past the bottlenecks that always existed on the West Country roads in those days. We never did of course, because everybody started that early! But then we would be through the last queue and get our first glimpse of a sea that was so much better than the North Sea that provided another holiday dip (if we were lucky) in my Uncle’s caravan. After that Cornwall was the ideal place for a teenager’s first solo holiday and certain coming of age events that were the basis for ‘Time’.

What’s next for you?

Next for me: Two more Detective Strongoak books that need a home and a very different children’s fantasy, with animation potential, that requires a publisher as well. Then there is a co-written book connected to a SF musical written with a talented composer in Canada to get staged and published and another great musical, very much UK-based, that I am just tweaking the lyrics. I have started a new series of fantasy books and completed a major film that I must get around to pitching as well. Hopefully the film that I wrote with a lovely Jamaican client will be in production soon and the animated feature for a chap in Australia should be well along. So, busy, busy – but it should be easier! And look out for me in the MATTHEWS documentary feature film if it comes your way; 15 seconds of fame.

What are you currently reading?

I am just back from holiday in Corfu where I read the very enjoyable VE Schwab ‘Shades of Magic’ trilogy and have now just started ‘Research’ by Phillip Kerr. I am a huge fan of his Bernie Gunther books, which feature a German detective in and around the time of WWII. So fantasy and detectives – oh dear, I do read and write other things you know.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I am very lucky to live in a village in the High Weald in East Sussex so we have some great countryside (and beer) around here, so the walking is marvellous. Sadly we are Dalmatian-less at the moment (love those spotty dogs), but I borrow a friend’s dog. As a writing fiend I tend to find if I am not writing books, then it’s scripts, or lyrics for songs that may or may not get written, or might perhaps one day come out as poetry. I sometimes still do dream of science though.

Lastly, and most importantly, jam or cream first?

Oh Lord, I’m in trouble here – but sorry, it is cream first for me. Actually who cares, as long as I get a warm scone. Very important, the warm scone.

You can buy Detective Strongoak and the Case of the Dead Elf from Amazon UK, Amazon US, and Barnes & Noble. For more information on this series, visit the website here. You can find Terry on Twitter: @adeadelf

 

Read on for Terry’s excellent submission, Time.

I walked along the cliff top looking down at the surfers, sunbathers and swimmers. The afternoon sun was dipping too and the sea beginning to turn that sparkling mixture of colours that an aunt of mine had once described as ‘opalescent’. A good word that, I put it away for later when I might need it.

It was all unbelievably lovely. It felt as if I had entered somebody else’s dream – not one of my own dreams – I didn’t have dreams this good. Not then.

They were sitting on the rough grass by the side of the path, taking in the view. I had seen her around the town earlier in the week. You couldn’t miss her. With her flowing skirts, silk scarves and straight blonde hair, she looked like a British version of the Fleetwood Mac singer, Stevie Nicks. I didn’t like Fleetwood Mac much. Stevie Nicks was another matter. Women like her were still relatively uncommon in Cornwall then. You didn’t miss women like that.

She smiled at me as I approached. I smiled back.

I didn’t recognise him. I guessed he was a couple of years older than I was though, but I was vaguely pleased to see his hair wasn’t as long. He had some cool beads around his neck that I rather envied. We nodded to each other as young men used to do when they recognised somebody from the same tribe – the tribe that was still then called without baggage, ‘hippy’.

‘You look stoned,’ she said.

‘No’, I had to admit. ‘I’m just … taking it all in. It’s really something here.’

‘High on life,’ she said. ‘That’s cool.’

‘Join us, man,’ said Beads.

‘Yes, I think I will.’

I sat down on the grass and the three of us continued to look across the water. They had some cider. Everybody had some cider then. We passed it around. After a while Beads rolled a joint. I had 20 Benson and Hedges and he pulled a couple of cigarettes apart to make the joint. Beads had papers that had been soaked in cannabis tincture – a trick I’d not come across before, though I didn’t mention it. The effect was mellow.

‘This is mellow,’ said Stevie.

‘Really mellow,’ said Beads.

‘Yes,’ I agreed, ‘really mellow.’

We passed the joint backwards and forwards. I tasted her lipstick on the roach.

‘You have really nice hair,’ Stevie said to me. ‘I wish my hair was that thick.’

‘Hey!’ I replied. ‘Your hair is really cool. It’s rock star hair.’ This seemed to please her and Beads rolled another joint.

The holidaymakers were going home now; buckets and spades all packed up, children collected and dinners to be made or bought from the chip shops. I passed the B&H around and we finished the cider, just taking it all in and feeling mellow. The afternoon stretched on and on. The sun didn’t want to go home either.

We talked about music and the relative merits of our favourite bands. Beads and Stevie liked some American bands, ‘The Grateful Dead’ and ‘Poco’ that I didn’t know that well. They were well impressed by my knowledge of prog rock bands on the Charisma label and liked the sound of Island’s ‘Dr Strangely Strange’. We all agreed that David Bowie was a genius, although Stevie admitted to a weakness for Marc Bolan as well.

She asked if I was wearing make-up. Only mascara I replied, that and a little eye shadow.

‘Far out,’ said Beads.

Stevie’s favourite book was ‘Fear of Flying’, which she had just finished. Beads liked ‘Naked Lunch’. I said I preferred ‘Tropic of Capricorn’, although I hadn’t read it. I answered truthfully, when it was my turn, and said I loved the ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and fully intended to write books like that one day.

Later we walked down to the river estuary, avoiding the town and walking through the campsite. The tide was out now and small pools of water had been left behind, deep enough to swim in. The waves could still be heard breaking on the nearby beach, but they were just part of the backdrop. In one of the pools a group of eight women were swimming naked, their clothes piled neatly on the nearby grass. They called out, in strong, slightly drunken, Northern accents, for us to join them.

The full moon had risen by then and was reflected in the tidal pools. The swimming girls looked like something from one of those painters whose names I could never remember. I half expected to see mermaid tails.

Beads and I looked at each, shrugged, and took off our flared loons and tie-dyed T-shirts, before dropping our department store pants and walking in. It was as warm as a bath.

Stevie sat for a minute or two and then said it ‘wasn’t her scene’ and walked on down towards the sea. Beads jumped out and ran after her while trying to get into his pants and jeans.

Two girls, one blond with a feather cut and one brunette with a bun, were singing David Bowie songs. Water droplets ran off their tanned arms and shoulders, falling like opalescent tears into the pool. I swam over and joined them and we sung ‘Time’ together, under the full moon, in the warm salty water, with the smell of the dunes and some residual ‘Coppertone’ suntan lotion.

Time was ‘waiting in the wings’, but he wasn’t centre stage then. Time had stopped. In moments like that time has to stop, because moments like that are eternal. Time knows better than to interrupt when moments like that are being created. Time has better timing.

The blonde with the feather cut, whose name was Sally, said: ‘Your mascara is running.’

‘That’ll teach me for not getting a water-proof one!’ I replied, laughing.

Sally was from Lincoln, sharing a caravan with her friends. She was an apprentice hairdresser and her friends mostly worked in High Street shops. She hadn’t read ‘Naked Lunch’ or ‘Fear of Flying’ and her favourite music, apart from David Bowie, was ska.

Sally and I went out for about a year, but long distance relationships don’t work well at that age. She cut my hair once – not very well. However, every summer Sally will be swimming in that pool, under the moonlight, singing David Bowie songs – as will I.

Time, his script may be ‘you and me, boys’, but he’s only the director. He doesn’t write the words. We do that.

the end