Dory’s Avengers Taster

It is now less than a month until the launch of my début novel DORY’S AVENGERS on 29 August 2013. I’m constantly looking to market my book as well as possible, and am very receptive to ideas courtesy of Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads etc. One comment that seems to crop up more than any other is: ‘Please may we read a sample of Dory’s Avengers?’

Of course you may! There are two ways to provide this sample.

  1. Attempt to work out how to activate the ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon.
  2. Share a taster on here.

Choice number two it is then. Here’s the prologue and chapter one. I hope you enjoy them!

DorysAvengers Cover Art

[title]Dory’s Avengers

[author]Alison Jack

Prologue: The Beginning of the

Sponsorship Scheme

Success came naturally to William St Benedict. Having been born into a life of wealth and privilege, he had grown up with an unshakable sense of his own infallibility. At the tender age of twenty-three, William had taken over the running of the St Benedict family business following the death of his father, and his ruthless determination had transformed the already successful company into the country’s dominant building firm. This would have been achievement enough for many people, but not for William. Having tasted power and found that he liked it, William wanted more. In short, he wanted to be the most powerful man that the United Kingdom, and perhaps even the world, had ever known. It was this ambition that led to William creating the Sponsorship Scheme.

Doubt wasn’t an emotion with which William was familiar, but even he was surprised by the phenomenal success of the Sponsorship Scheme. Within a year, sponsor endorsement became synonymous with success, and the various sponsor groups were inundated with applications for Sponsorship from all over the country. Conversely, being Unsponsored began to carry a stigma too horrible to contemplate, and the Sponsored became increasingly terrified of losing their status.

Eleven years before the end of the millennium, when the Sponsorship Scheme was in its fourth year, William St Benedict was driving home through the dirty remains of the winter’s first snowfall. The weather in London was bleak and cold, and it was already getting dark despite only being three o’clock in the afternoon. This didn’t dampen William’s spirits in the slightest; the five years since he had taken over St Benedict Construction had gone very much according to plan, and he was feeling extremely pleased with himself. Switching on his car radio, William was just in time to hear some news that compounded his happiness.

‘This just in, folks!’ said the radio DJ, his voice full of enthusiasm. ‘It would seem our very own William St Benedict, founder of the wonderful Sponsorship Scheme, is widely believed to be getting an honour from Her Maj when the New Year’s Honours are announced. Sir William would be appropriate, don’t you think? Or maybe Lord William; no title befits this fine gentlemen better than a lordship, hey, guys and girls? Am I right or am I right?’

William was still dreaming about receiving an honorary peerage from the Queen when he arrived at his luxurious Kensington home. The founder members of the Sponsorship Scheme were already enjoying hot cups of tea and the warmth of the drawing-room fire as William paused briefly to look in on the family room. William’s first child, eighteen-month-old Rosanna, was shrieking happily while her nanny, Marie, hung ornaments on a vast Christmas tree. Rosanna was already a beauty, with golden curls framing her pretty face and light-brown eyes, so like her father’s, sparkling as she toddled over to receive his embrace. William’s wife, Isabelle, uncurled herself from the easy chair by the fire and crossed the room to greet her husband.

‘Hello, dear,’ she said, kissing William lightly on the cheek. ‘Our guests are already assembled in the drawing room. I’ve asked Mooreland to supply them with refreshments.’

‘Then let us go and join them, darling,’ replied William, passing Rosanna back to Marie and taking his wife by the hand.

‘Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,’ said William a few minutes later, entering the drawing room with Isabelle and greeting the people who had helped to pioneer the Sponsorship Scheme. ‘Thank you for making the journey to my humble abode in such inclement weather. Owing to the fact that the festive season is almost upon us we will make this an informal meeting; in fact, I would like to start proceedings with a cause for celebration.’

William paused at this point to hug Isabelle closer to his side, before announcing, ‘Isabelle and I are expecting a second child. He’s due at the end of June.’

‘I can’t guarantee a boy, Will,’ said Isabelle, laughing at her husband’s certainty. ‘He so wants a son and heir,’ she continued for the benefit of the assembled company, who were rising as one from their seats to offer their congratulations.

‘Wonderful! Wonderful!’

‘Splendid news!’

‘Marvellous! A little brother or sister for the lovely Rosanna.’

Hugs, kisses and more congratulations followed. Brian Mooreland, the head of the St Benedict household staff and beneficiary of the Sponsorship Scheme, appeared with chilled bottles of champagne, and toasts were offered to the parents to be.

After the champagne and the congratulations, William called for a short period of calm in order that business could be discussed. As promised, William kept the proceedings informal, and the meeting was more a mutual back-slapping session as one by one his colleagues reported success after success.

‘We now have all the major banks on board,’ Mortimer O’Reilly, head of Finance Sponsorship, reported proudly. ‘One or two were a little suspicious to begin with, but the obvious benefits of endorsement have persuaded them to join in our venture.’

‘That is indeed great news,’ said William. ‘We can’t have too many allies in the money world. Fiona, I hear things go from strength to strength in the medical branch of the Professional Sponsor Group.’

‘Absolutely right, William,’ replied Dr Fiona Turnbull, placing her glass on the table. ‘The Turnbull Health Centres are spreading far and wide across the country, with new centres due to open shortly in Oxford, York and Glasgow. Pro Spo now sponsor over one and a half million families, with some promising medical students due to graduate in the summer. The Best Friend veterinary surgeries are also highly successful countrywide, and I’ve been working with Steph to ensure a Feathers and Fur shop opens adjacent to each Best Friend  premises.’

The Steph mentioned by Fiona was Stephanie Rogers, head of the Retail Sponsorship Group. William had the greatest respect for both women, admiring their professionalism and dignity. He recalled the day that the Scheme had been born, when Steph had taken on the running of Retail Sponsorship.

‘Jolly good,’ he’d said in response to her eager acceptance of the post. ‘I have no doubt you’ll excel in the role. After all, you women do love to shop!’

‘Indeed,’ Steph had replied smoothly, ‘almost as much as you men love to stereotype.’

For over three years now, Stephanie had never failed to deliver even more than William could have hoped. She was currently busy sifting through the multitude of applicants wishing to open stores in St Benedict Construction’s brand-new development: a high-class shopping arcade in the fashionable Docklands area of London.

‘Lysander,’ said William, addressing the memorably named Lysander Trevelyan, ‘Leisure and Fitness?’

‘What about it?’ replied Lysander, blue eyes twinkling with amusement. ‘Oh, do you want a report? I was enjoying a rather pleasant little snooze here by the fire.’

‘Of course he wants a report, you imbecile,’ snapped Mortimer, astounded that anyone would have the nerve to give any backchat to William St Benedict.

‘Relax, Morti old chum. William knows I like a little joke, don’t you, WSB?’

William regarded Lysander and Mortimer with some amusement. The two men couldn’t have been more different. Mortimer: red-faced, anxious, slightly plump; undoubtedly a genius with figures but lacking somewhat in social skills. Lysander: confident, athletic and handsome; his blond hair attractively tousled, clothes always well-fitting and immaculately stylish. That the pair despised each other was plain for all to see; they never missed an opportunity to score points off each other, the quick-witted Lysander usually emerging the winner.

‘I hate being called Morti…’ whined the money man, but he was interrupted smoothly by Lysander.

‘Leisure and Fitness, though I say so myself, is fantastically successful. People these days work hard, and we encourage them to play equally hard. The people we sponsor have grasped the concept with enthusiasm; forgive me for not having exact figures for you, but as of November we were sponsoring well over three million. It is a figure that is swelling all the time, with youngsters all over the country keen to train as fitness coaches, beauty therapists and hair stylists. There are waiting lists to join all our gyms and sports centres, and the health farms are fully booked at least until the end of February. We at Leisure and Fitness are working in conjunction with David and Julia of the Sport Sponsorship Group to meet the ever-increasing demand for top-quality sport and fitness facilities. We will, of course, keep you posted every step of the way.’

‘Lysander; I don’t doubt it, nor do I doubt for a moment your ability to meet the demand levelled at you. David and Julia, your success with the sportsmen and women is already reaping its rewards with that nice trophy the country celebrated so wildly in the summer.’

‘Yes, that was fabulous, wasn’t it?’ replied David Foster. ‘But I’m afraid to say the little problem of which we spoke a few weeks ago is far from resolved.’

‘Ah yes, the stubborn young footballer. You may speak freely in front of my wife; she is aware of the situation.’

A roomful of curious eyes turned upon Isabelle St Benedict, who kept her expression neutral despite the sense of foreboding she suddenly felt.

‘My gobby little brother?’ she said lightly. ‘I’m sure he’ll grow up soon and learn to keep his silly ideas to himself.’

‘Who is this person?’ asked Mortimer O’Reilly, who didn’t follow sport. ‘Is he a threat to the Scheme?’

‘Elliot Farrell,’ replied William, ‘promising footballer and Izzy’s brother. Not only is he resisting Sponsorship, but he is rather vocal in his condemnation of the Scheme.’

‘Why not drop him then?’ asked Mortimer.

‘Because he’s damn good,’ said David. ‘So good he’s widely considered to be the most talented footballer this country has ever produced. Too good to ignore.’

‘What’s he been saying?’

‘He reckons the Sponsorship Scheme stifles individuality,’ said Isabelle before anyone else could reply. ‘He thinks we’re creating a brainwashed society. Silly boy, he’s only young. I’ll speak to him again, get him to see sense. He’ll listen to his big sister!’

William took his wife’s hand and smiled at the company gathered in his huge room, bringing the formalities to a close as Isabelle’s pulse rate gradually returned to normal.

‘That’s settled then. Yes, my friends, we can all look forward to the New Year happy in the knowledge that the Sponsorship Scheme continues to go from strength to strength. Now, unless I am very much mistaken, dinner is imminent; so if you would all care to make your way to the dining room, I shall join you just as soon as I’ve kissed my daughter goodnight.’

Later in the evening, after everyone had enjoyed a magnificent dinner and most had departed for home, William invited Lysander, Mortimer, Steph and Fiona to join him in the drawing room for a nightcap. William would probably have named these people as his particular friends among the committee of Sponsors; even Mortimer, although not an obvious candidate for such an accolade, made the Scheme so much money that William regarded him as an integral part of life.

Isabelle St Benedict joined her husband and their friends in the drawing room after having helped Marie to settle a fractious Rosanna. As Isabelle sat down next to Steph and Fiona with her Persian cat on her lap, Mortimer O’Reilly decided the moment had come to make his prediction.

‘Unlikely though it may seem, I have the gift of second sight,’ announced Mortimer, nodding solemnly. ‘I am a seer.’

‘You’re a what?’ asked Lysander Trevelyan. ‘A deer? Good grief, we haven’t just eaten your brother for dinner, have we?’

Mortimer bristled, as much at William’s ill-concealed amusement as at Lysander’s words.

‘I am a seer; a seer, you fool! I have the gift of second sight, although sometimes it feels like a heavy burden… Trevelyan, just shut up! Shut up, will you!’

‘OK, OK,’ said Lysander, controlling his laughter with a tremendous effort. ‘What have you seen?’

‘You’ve never liked me, have you?’ shrieked Mortimer.

‘Is that it? Doesn’t take a psychic to see that, does it? I’ll tell you without the aid of crystal balls – I think you’re a tosser of the highest order.’

‘Lysander, button it!’ snapped William before Mortimer had the opportunity to reply. ‘Mortimer is a highly valued member of this committee; his financial expertise is second to none and has put the borrowing and lending of money in this country pretty much entirely under Sponsor control. I also consider him to be a personal friend, and would ask that you treat him with some respect. Mortimer, please continue with what you were saying. It sounds very interesting.’

As Lysander inclined his head in deference to William’s words, Mortimer cast him a triumphant look before continuing:

‘There are powers afoot, mystical powers that no mere mortal can comprehend. I always suspected I had the gift of sight, and now it has manifested itself at a time when it is most useful. It has given me a warning, a warning pertinent to us all…’

Lysander let out an almighty snort of laughter.

‘Sorry, WSB,’ he said, eyes watering. ‘Sneeze.’

Shaking his head slightly at Lysander, William himself pondered the possibility that a full moon lurked behind the clouds outside. The three women could barely contain their amusement. Heads bowed, they made a big show of fussing the ecstatic cat while listening intently to the conversation going on by the fireplace.

‘I’m sorry, Mortimer,’ said William, ‘but an intelligent businessman such as yourself doesn’t seem a very likely candidate to believe in all that hocus-pocus claptrap.’

‘Please, William; you must listen to me. You must ALL listen to me; our very future may depend on it. A child will be born in the north of England before the year is out. A blond child who will grow up to bring about the downfall of all we hold dear, a fair-haired boy-child who will plot the destruction of the Sponsooorrrssshhhiiippp… …’

Never one to miss an opportunity for melodrama, Mortimer’s voice degenerated into a wail. Expecting yet another outburst of amusement from Lysander, William was unprepared for what happened next. All mirth gone from his eyes, Lysander walked over to Mortimer and pretty much spat his words into the money man’s face.

‘Well now, Mister Seer, as you well know, my first child is due to be born any day now. Let’s SEE, shall we, if Nikki has a boy-child. Given that my wife and I are both fair-haired, I think it would be safe for Mister Seer to ASSUME our child would be born equally fair. Now if you’ll excuse me, Mister SEER, I feel rather aggrieved at your mystical prophecy, which I regard as a feeble and unwarranted insult to my family. For me, all pleasure has gone from what has, until now, been a very pleasant evening.’

Turning his back on Mortimer, Lysander addressed the other occupants of the room.

‘WSB, Izzy, as ever your hospitality has been of the highest quality. Thank you both. Steph, Fiona, it has been a pleasure to keep you company once again. I bid you all goodnight.’

Lysander’s departure was followed by a prolonged and uneasy silence, finally broken by Brian Mooreland asking whether further refreshments would be required. As the party spirit had died with Lysander’s stinging words to Mortimer, the remaining guests politely declined and started getting ready to leave. As he said his farewells, Mortimer made one last attempt to appeal to William.

‘It’s true, William. I did have a vision of the future. Of course, you’re an intelligent man of the world, but don’t disregard forces beyond even our comprehension. If my vision did indeed refer to Trevelyan’s child, then he needs to be watched closely. What harm could it do to be cautious?’

‘What harm indeed,’ replied William, patting the neurotic Mortimer on the arm. ‘Thank you for having the courage to speak to us on this matter, and please try not to worry. The Sponsorship Scheme is growing stronger every day, with the full backing of the government.  Indeed, I met with the Prime Minister only two days ago, and she is delighted with the order that has come to society since we introduced the Scheme to the UK. By the time this child of whom you speak has grown old enough to be any threat, he will soon find he is taking on a formidable opponent.’

Once Mortimer, Fiona and Steph had departed for their homes, William turned to his wife.

‘What do you make of that, Izzy? Rather an unusual turn of events.’

‘I think Mortimer may have been at the herbal cigarettes again, Will. He certainly gave us girls a good laugh.’

‘Yes, I did notice,’ said William, still looking thoughtful. ‘However, it wouldn’t hurt to keep an eye on Trevelyan’s family, especially if the child is a boy.’

‘I suppose not, darling,’ said Isabelle, her light tone and pretty smile masking the return of her unease.

By the end of the year two significant events had taken place. It turned out that the radio DJ had been spot on concerning the New Year’s Honours List, and the head of the Sponsorship Scheme began the final year of the decade as Lord William St Benedict.

Two days after both the DJ and Mortimer O’Reilly had made their predictions, a baby boy was indeed born in the north of England. He was a healthy, if slightly unusual, child. It was only when Louis Trevelyan entered the world on a frosty day shortly before Christmas that Lysander and Nicola, his parents, discovered they both carried the albino gene.

Chapter One

In Cumbria, the north-westernmost county of England, lies an area of outstanding natural beauty known as the Lake District National Park. The ancient landscape is enjoyed to this day by a variety of people, from the keenest walkers climbing to the high summits to those who prefer to explore the souvenir shops and quaint cafés of the towns nestling in the valleys. Dry-stone walls border lanes and paths, deep lakes charm visitors with their timeless beauty, and pretty meadows sit below majestic mountains. The air is clean and pure, the pace of life relaxed. Sometimes the only companions a solitary walker will have throughout the day are the ubiquitous sheep and the birds flying above. Those who have fallen in love with the Lake District are drawn back time after time, and it is a love that will be with them for life.

Lying beneath arguably the most stunning of the mountains, or fells as they are often called, is the little village of Applethwaite. Tucked in a hollow it is not visible from the main road into the national park, and surrounded as it is by woodland, affectionately known to the locals as ‘’Thwaite’s Wood’, it enjoys a sense of isolation envied by the better-known Lake District towns. Only the most dedicated of walkers will attempt the difficult descent from the fell into Applethwaite; but those who do are rewarded with a warm welcome, a pint of fine ale and, if required, a comfortable bed for the night in the village’s White Lion Inn. The village enjoys a tremendous sense of community, and is an oasis for those who like to live their lives in peace and tranquillity.

Louis Trevelyan was someone who dearly loved to live his life in peace and tranquillity, but he was beginning to feel more than a little stressed as he viewed his surroundings from an unusual angle. Body inverted, his arms held him solid above a pair of parallel bars while his muscles increasingly screamed at him to give them a rest. Although the day was bright and sunny outside, none of the sunlight found its way past the heavy curtains covering the windows, and the electric light was dimmed to its lowest setting.

‘Gideon,’ said Louis between heavy breaths, ‘can I stop now?’

Silence from his companion.

‘Gideon? Are you asleep?’

More silence. With a fluid movement, Louis righted himself and dropped gracefully from the bars to the floor. Crossing to the light switch, he simultaneously turned up the light and placed dark glasses over his eyes, before turning to the slightly built man in the wheelchair.

‘GIDEON!’ yelled Louis, his face inches from that of his mentor.

‘WHO THE BLOODY HELL TOLD YOU TO GET DOWN?’ roared Gideon in reply.

‘You did,’ said Louis, smiling as he opened a bottle of water for himself and handed one to Gideon. ‘You talk in your sleep.’

‘You were rubbish today,’ grumbled Gideon, accepting the water with barely a grunt of thanks.

‘So why continue to teach me then?’ asked Louis, not for the first time. ‘I’m never going to compete in the Olympics or anything, so what’s the point?’

‘You’re damn good, that’s why, Trevelyan; and I for one think it’s only right to nurture a talent such as yours. You’re damn lucky, and I’d thank you to remember that not all of us have the gift of movement.’

Long used to Gideon’s strange moods, Louis settled himself on one of the large window seats and squinted out into the street below.

‘Do you want to go for a walk, Gid? It’s a gorgeous day out there, and I’ve got my sun block…’

‘Three things, Trevelyan. One, no to your question. Two, never ever call me Gid again. Three, you’re late.’

‘Shit!’ Louis’ head snapped round and he looked, cross-eyed, at the clock above the door. After watching Louis failing to focus on the clock face, Gideon finally said, ‘It’s nearly three, Louis.’

‘Shit!’ said Louis again. Grabbing a towel he headed for the studio’s showers, and by the time he had showered and dressed there was no sign of Gideon.

‘I’ll lock up again, shall I, Gid?’ said Louis to the empty room. ‘Shall I, Gid? Gid! Gid!’

Giggling childishly, Louis made sure the studio was secure before donning a wide-brimmed sunhat and heading off to Applethwaite Primary School. It never occurred to Louis to ponder the fact that Gideon Wallis, once world-renowned gymnast until a freak car accident confined him to a wheelchair seventeen years previously, had moved to Applethwaite simply to train Louis. Gideon had bought and equipped a studio with high-quality bars, pommel horse and rings simply to train a gymnast who, although talented as Louis undoubtedly was, would never compete in any tournament. Even had Louis’s natural shyness not been enough to prevent him from entertaining the idea of performing publicly, it was not something that Gideon ever encouraged. Although Louis often questioned the older man’s reasons for continuing with his daily training, the question was always intended only to goad Gideon into paying Louis one of his rare compliments. Louis didn’t question the strangeness of the situation because he didn’t actually find it strange. It was the only thing he had ever known.

By the time Louis arrived, breathless, at Applethwaite Primary School’s gates, the lessons had been over for a good ten minutes. Jenny Trevelyan, Louis’s six-year-old sister, was waiting patiently for him to arrive. Blonde and pretty, although not as fair as her brother, Jenny was extremely proud of the gap where her two front teeth used to be and the imminent arrival of ‘grown-up teeth’. Waiting with Jenny was the Trevelyan’s neighbour, Jane Radcliffe. Good old Jane, Louis thought. He could always rely on her and her little girl, Jenny’s best friend Alex, to wait with Jenny whenever he was running late.

As Louis reached the school gates and his weak eyes finally focused on the scene before him, he saw that Jane and Alex had already departed for home, and that Jenny had actually been keeping company with Abilene Farrell.

Abi Farrell. Smooth skin. Long, dark hair. Slim figure, beautifully toned thanks to Abi’s love of sport. The fragrant, the lovely, the unattainable Abi; smiling at Louis as she explained that she’d offered to wait with Jenny – Jane had to rush off, sponsor paying a visit, really not a problem…

‘Er, thanks, erm, Abi…’ Louis managed, blushing frantically and attempting to hide beneath his huge hat. Oh yeah, Lou, he thought, great look. Flustered albino in ancient sunhat pulls exotic Mediterranean beauty. Never going to happen!

‘Are you OK, Louis?’ asked Abi kindly, laying a hand on Louis’s arm and unwittingly reducing him to a jabbering wreck.

‘Thank you, yes I am, thank you, Abi – sorry I’m late – Gideon, track of time, erm…’ Louis’s gabbling made him feel a bigger fool with every passing second, while Jenny grabbed his hands and attempted to turn somersaults.

‘Really, it’s not a problem,’ said Abi. ‘Jenny and I have been having a lovely chat; haven’t we, Jen?’

‘Yes!’ replied the little girl. ‘Miss Winter made us all draw a poster for the Sponsors’ Fair on Saturday, and she said mine was the best. Abi liked it too.’

The child grabbed Abi’s hands and jumped up and down with excitement, while the two young adults smiled at each other over her head. It was a rare moment of ease for Louis while in Abi’s company, and he silently thanked Jenny for breaking the tension.

‘Well, thank you once again, Abi,’ said Louis. ‘Say thank you to Abi, Jen!’ he continued, finding it less daunting to speak to Abi through his little sister.

‘Abi, come and have tea with us! Sarah won’t mind,’ said Jenny unexpectedly, and Louis returned to his previous state of panic.

‘I’d love to, Jenny, but I can’t today,’ said Abi, stroking the child’s hair. ‘My Uncle Chris is picking me up soon and we’re going to make some poorly animals better.’

‘OK, Abi, see you another day. Will you be at the Sponsors’ Fair?’

Abi frowned darkly and briefly, so briefly that had Louis not been staring rapturously at her he would have missed it.

‘No, darling, I won’t be there, but I’m sure I’ll see you soon. We’ll have tea together one day very soon, I promise. Bye, Louis. Take care.’

Dragging Louis behind her, Jenny headed off in the direction of the Trevelyan family home. The child’s chatter washed over Louis as he continued to think about Abi long after she had disappeared from sight. He wondered why mention of the Sponsors always seemed to dampen Abi’s mood. As a trainee vet she must surely benefit from Professional Sponsorship, or Pro Spo as it was affectionately known. He knew that Christopher Farrell, local veterinary surgeon and Abi’s uncle, was endorsed by Pro Spo, and as Abi practised alongside her uncle when on leave from university she must come under the Pro Spo umbrella too. Then there was the prestigious veterinary college that Abi attended; Louis knew for a fact that this college was endorsed by both Pro Spo and Academic Sponsorship. Louis realised he rarely thought about the Sponsorship Scheme, despite the fact that his father worked for Lord William St Benedict. Indeed, Lysander Trevelyan was in charge of the highly regarded Leisure and Fitness Sponsorship Group; a position that afforded, among other things, the beautiful house in which Louis and Jenny lived so comfortably. It briefly crossed Louis’s mind that he never really got much chance to talk to his father about anything, and that it may be a nice idea to ask him about Leisure and Fitness next time they met.

Within minutes Louis Trevelyan – highly talented gymnast, head over heels in love with Abilene Farrell and more than a little scatty – had forgotten all about Leisure and Fitness in the pleasure of being home again. Home was a large, slate house in an exclusive little lane leading out of the village towards ’Thwaite’s Wood and the fell beyond. Surrounded by mature gardens bordered by an old stone wall, the grand house sat proud in its seclusion. Inside, a large hallway led to a magnificent staircase; to the left of the hallway lay the cosy family room into which Jenny and Louis now headed, behind which was the kitchen and the kindly Sarah. To the right of the hallway were the more formal rooms of the house – the sitting room with its huge, ornate fireplace, and the dining room, only used when Lysander was at home and entertaining. As Lysander being home was a rarity, the dining room spent most of its time cold and empty; Louis and Jenny preferring the informal comfort of Sarah’s kitchen.

Louis would never have considered his childhood to have been an unhappy one, but he was blissfully unaware that it was a very unorthodox one. His father had been a virtual stranger for his entire life; a handsome, charismatic man who appeared every so often with an ever-changing flock of admirers in tow, only to vanish within days for another long period of absence. Louis wasn’t sure how he was meant to feel about Lysander. He admired his father, it was true, and wished that he could emulate Lysander’s easy confidence and ready wit, but beyond that his feelings were sadly indifferent.

Louis and Jenny’s mother, Nicola, was equally strange to her children, but this wasn’t due to her being absent from the family home. Although she shared the large house with them, Nicola was usually to be found drifting around in a drug-induced world of her own. Nicola’s bedroom was situated over the rarely used dining room, so it often felt to Louis as though the left-hand side of the house was filled with love and warmth, while the right was cold and silent, haunted by the ghostly presence of his mother. Today she was sleeping, not an unusual state of affairs as lack of proper sustenance made her constantly tired. Her children barely registered her absence.

Unlike both of their parents, Sarah Lonsdale was very much a part of the youngsters’ lives. For as long as Louis could remember it had been Sarah who cared for him, looked after him when he was ill, kissed him better when he was hurt. The loving arms around him following childhood nightmares were always Sarah’s. The hand on to which he clung, terrified, on his first day at school was Sarah’s. His tears at cruel taunts from other children were mopped up by Sarah; she rejoiced with him at sports day triumphs, tended to his occasional sunburn and reprimanded him for being foolish enough to forget his sun block, fed him, clothed him and gently guided him into adulthood. That Sarah loved the Trevelyan children was beyond doubt, as was the fact that the feeling was mutual.

Once again, having never known any different, it never occurred to Louis to question who Sarah Lonsdale actually was, where she had come from, and why she never visited or even spoke of her own family.

Later on, following a hilarious conversation over dinner about a walk in the countryside involving a very vocal donkey, every type of weather imaginable and a group of walkers making weary attempts to climb over a style, Jenny was finally persuaded into her bed. Louis’s favourite time of the day was spent at the child’s bedside, reading stories to her as her breathing slowly deepened and she gave in to sleep. He often sat for a while after Jenny had disappeared to dreamland, lights and dark glasses both off, watching his beloved sister as she slept. Jenny had been an unexpected addition to the family, a very welcome addition as far as Louis was concerned, although he remembered his constant worries over his mother’s state of health during her pregnancy. Still at school himself at the time, he had relied even more than usual on the protective eye of Sarah Lonsdale. Happily, when Jenny had been born just over six years previously, she was totally unscathed by her mother’s unhealthy lifestyle. Louis absolutely adored his sister and made sure that Jenny’s life was as full of as much love and fun as possible.

Louis felt quite chilled by the time he finally roused himself from Jenny’s bedside. Must be because I’ve been sitting still for so long, Louis thought as he opened the bathroom door with a view to warming up in a hot bath.

When Louis recalled the next few moments of his life it seemed to him as though time slowed to a virtual standstill, so shocked was he by the scene that greeted him. Instead of the big, friendly bathroom with its freestanding bath and antique iron fireplace, so familiar to Louis all his life, there was a room he’d never seen before. It wasn’t an unpleasant room, but that didn’t make it any less alarming to Louis. It wasn’t his family home’s bathroom where his family home’s bathroom should be, and that shocked Louis to the core. Luckily for the sake of Louis’s delicate eyes, still unprotected by their dark glasses, the room was as dim as the unlit landing behind him.

Glancing back over his shoulder Louis found that, yes, the landing was still behind him.

Glancing again into the space that should have contained the bathroom, Louis was dismayed to find that the room was still as unfamiliar as it had been a few seconds before. Never renowned for his decisiveness, Louis remained where he was, clinging desperately on to the doorframe as if that were his last connection with reality, while his shocked brain made a valiant attempt to take in the scene before him.

As already mentioned, the room was not unpleasant; indeed, it looked rather luxurious. Beautiful silk curtains framed two large sash windows. Deep, exotic rugs covered sanded and sealed floorboards on either side of a large four-poster bed, and the furniture in the room was clearly of the highest quality. All this impressed itself into the back of Louis’s mind, but the luxury of the room dimmed into insignificance at the sight of the young man on the bed. Tall and slim, he was laying sprawled on top of the quilt, eyes closed and forehead creased in concentration. Louis took in light-brown, shoulder-length hair and well-defined features before the man’s eyes opened and he looked directly at Louis.

Louis had a moment to notice two things about the other man’s eyes; they were exactly the same colour as his hair and they were filled with anger. Almost as soon as Louis’s eyes made contact with those of the stranger, the scene faded from view, and the Trevelyan family bathroom was back in its rightful place.

Half an hour later Sarah came up the stairs to check on the frail Nicola Trevelyan, and was surprised to find Louis clinging to the doorway of the bathroom.

‘Louis, darling?’ said Sarah, laying a gentle hand on Louis’s shoulder, her eyes widening in alarm as he jumped violently. ‘Are you feeling OK, love?’

‘Sarah,’ gasped Louis, finally letting go of the bathroom doorframe and grabbing hold of her soft arms instead. ‘Have you ever seen anything…er…weird in the bathroom?’

‘Weird, love? What do you mean by weird?’

‘Well, has it ever turned into a room that’s not the bathroom? With a bloke it? Looking cross?’ Even as he spoke, Louis realised how ridiculous his words must sound to the down-to-earth Sarah.

However, Sarah’s reaction was not the one Louis would have expected. Instead of teasing him gently and telling him not to be so silly, she asked him exactly what he’d seen, her usually cheerful expression full of concern.

‘Well, it was a right nice room, with all t’stuff the toffs have, velvet and silk and that,’ said Louis, his northern accent thickening in his anxiety to express himself to Sarah. ‘There was a fella on t’bed, and he looked proper fed up…Sarah, what the bloody hell’s happened to me tonight?’ Louis’s voice trailed off as Sarah continued to gaze at him in concern.

‘I’m not sure, love,’ said Sarah finally, ‘but I’m glad it’s me you told. Sometimes it’s wise to be a little cautious about who you trust. Now,’ she continued, regaining her composure, ‘how about I run you a nice hot bath?’

Louis looked fearfully back into the bathroom, which remained the familiar room he’d known since childhood.

‘I’m not sure I’m up for spending too much time in the bathroom tonight, thanks, Sarah. Think I’ll leave it until the morning.’

‘OK, my love. How about I go and check up on your mam, then we’ll have a chat over some hot chocolate. Oooh, I made some ginger biscuits today too; we could give them a try. I hear you saw Abi today; how is she getting on…?’

Louis adored Sarah. She always knew exactly what to say to make him feel better no matter what life decided to throw at him. By the time he finally went to bed, full of biscuits (Gideon would not have approved!), he drifted quickly into a sleep filled with dreams not of strange rooms and angry men, but of laying in sunlight that didn’t burn his skin, running his fingers through Abi’s sleek hair.

The next day dawned warm and sunny; and even Louis, who had good reason to fear the sunlight, felt his spirits rise at the glimmer of light around the edges of his curtains. Jenny and Sarah were singing happily as Jenny got ready for school in the bathroom, which was clearly still a bathroom, and Louis felt unusually at ease with the world. The strange happenings of the previous evening seemed totally unreal in the light of a new day, and even the thought of another punishing training session with the grump that was Gideon couldn’t dampen his spirits. In actual fact Louis liked Gideon a lot, and he had a feeling, despite Gideon’s permanent bad mood, that the feeling was mutual. After all, why else would Gideon invest so much of his time in a reasonably good but totally unambitious gymnast?

Even in the reassuring light of the morning, Louis had no desire to spend too much time in the bathroom, so he showered quickly then grabbed his kit and hammered down the stairs two at a time.

‘Goodness, Louis, where’s the fire?’ asked Sarah, laughing affectionately at the young man’s haste.

‘No fire, just a ghost in the bathroom,’ replied Louis, returning Sarah’s laughter. ‘Don’t look so worried, Sarah, I’m joking…’

‘Eat! Now!’ said Sarah, swatting Louis’s arm. ‘I’ve no doubt that Gideon won’t think to feed you.’

‘Well, I’m lucky that you do think to feed me then. Oh, hello, Mam,’ said Louis, entering the big, cheerful kitchen and noting with surprise that Nicola Trevelyan was sitting at the table, sipping coffee.

‘Hello, dear,’ said Nicola. ‘How’s the training?’

‘Good thanks, Mam. How are you?’

‘Oh I’m fine, fine,’ said Nicola vaguely. ‘What is this stuff, Sarah?’

‘It’s toast, Mrs Trevelyan,’ said Sarah, her voice unusually disapproving. ‘Eat some; it’ll do you good!’

‘Or some Happy Pops, Mammy?’ said Jenny, offering her favourite cereal to her mother. Sarah noted sadly that both of Nicola’s children had so little contact with their mother that, whenever she appeared, they both did all they could to please her.

‘Oh, thank you, Genevieve, but I think they’re for you. I’ll have some of Sarah’s, um, toast.’

‘Mammy! No one calls me Genevieve any more, not even Miss Winter.’

‘What do you like to be called then, my little peach?’ asked Nicola, smiling weakly.

‘Jenny, Mammy. I’m Jenny, everyone knows that!’

‘And now I know too.’

‘Time for school, Missy,’ said Sarah, shunting Jenny upstairs to brush her teeth, and leaving Louis to attempt conversation with the stranger who was his mother.

‘So, how’s the training, Louis?’

‘As good as it was last time you asked, Mam,’ replied Louis patiently. ‘Why don’t you come along and watch today?’

‘Oh, I don’t think so, darling. That Giddy bloke scares me; he’s always so cross.’

The idea of anyone calling Gideon ‘Giddy’ to his face was so funny that Louis couldn’t help but laugh.

‘OK,’ he said impulsively, ‘at least walk with us to Jenny’s school! She’d love that so much.’

It was a high-spirited group that set off into the sunshine towards Applethwaite’s little primary school, Nicola having unexpectedly agreed to accompany her children on the short walk.

‘Sun block?’ yelled Jenny at her brother, following their usual morning ritual as the group prepared to leave the house.

‘On,’ replied Louis.

‘Sunhat?’

‘On.’

‘Dark glasses?’

‘On my nose, Miss Jenny!’

‘Why do you need them?’

‘Because of the sunlight – it burns my eyes!’ Curling his hands into claws, Louis let out a growl worthy of the most fearsome monster and raced off in pursuit of his delighted sister.

‘They’re so happy,’ said Nicola, watching her children with interest.

‘Indeed they are,’ replied Sarah. ‘They’re lovely young people, both of them.’

‘I know this, Sarah, and you must take credit for that. Heaven knows, Lysander and I have never been much use as parents!’

Not sure how to answer this, Sarah changed the subject.

‘I’ve got to nip off now, Mrs Trevelyan, but I’ll be back shortly. Louis always sees Jenny to school; they like it that way.’

By the time Louis and Jenny returned, still at full pelt and the pursuer now the pursued, Nicola was standing on her own.

‘Louis’s a rubbish monster; I’m a much better monster,’ yelled the child happily. ‘I’m ever so much more scary. Sponsors’ Fair this weekend, Mammy; will you be there? Daddy will!’

Full of energy, Jenny headed off once again at a run in the direction of Applethwaite Primary, leaving Nicola wondering why her daughter’s train of thought had jumped from monsters to Sponsors so readily.

‘Work it, Louis!’ yelled Gideon, fully alert today. ‘Work it, hold that, hold STILL, boy! Good. Very good.’

‘Enough?’ Louis asked breathlessly, having ‘worked it’ for what seemed like decades. To his surprise Gideon, in an unusually good mood, agreed.

‘Yes, that’ll do for today, Louis. Grab yourself a shower!’

‘Will you wait here, or am I locking up again?’

‘Questions, always too many questions. Get in the shower!’

Having fallen foul of Gideon’s mood swings many times in the past, Louis did as he was told.

‘Oh no, not you again,’ said Louis in dismay, opening the shower room door and stepping into the luxurious room he had found in his family home’s bathroom the previous night.

‘WHAT?’ Gideon yelled from behind him.

‘Nothing, nothing,’ Louis called hastily, looking over his shoulder to where all was normality, before stepping a bit further into where all was not.

The view of the room was different this time. The bed was directly on his left, and sunlight was streaming in through the windows beyond. Discovering to his surprise that he didn’t need the protection of his dark glasses in this weird otherworld, and that his eyes functioned perfectly well for once, Louis found his gaze drawn to the view beyond the window. Tops of clearly mature trees framed the uppermost storeys of a large, red-brick house on the opposite side of what Louis deduced to be a wide street. Wherever this room was, it was obviously a very affluent area. Looking around him for the young man, Louis found him sitting at a desk in the corner of the room.

‘Who are you?’ he whispered.

The young man was clearly aware of Louis’s presence, as he turned and looked directly at Louis. However, as soon as the two men made eye contact the scene once again faded, and Louis found himself in the shower room of Gideon’s studio, the harsh light burning his sensitive eyes.

Having showered, with the lights off, Louis found that Gideon was still sitting in his favourite spot in the corner of the studio.

‘What the bloody hell were you talking to yourself for? You going mad like your mother?’ asked Gideon rudely.

Louis gazed steadily at Gideon, deciding it would be futile to try and defend his mother’s honour. Impulsively, he decided to trust Gideon as he’d trusted Sarah the night before, his desire to make sense of his visions overriding his fear of looking a fool.

‘Gideon, I keep seeing a room I don’t know with a man I don’t know in it.’

‘That makes even less sense than most of your puerile utterings, Trevelyan. Stop gabbling or stop wasting my time!’

Louis was undeterred by Gideon’s bad temper, having encountered it so many times before.

‘OK, I’ve started telling you so I may as well finish…’

‘BLOODY HELL, TREVELYAN, YOU’RE NOT PRESENTING MASTERMIND!’

Still undeterred, Louis told Gideon. He told Gideon everything, slowly and clearly, about the previous night’s occurrence then the scene that had just played out in the shower. Louis had been expecting a number of reactions from Gideon – disbelief, mockery maybe, anger. What he hadn’t expected was to be believed. Yes, Gideon was angry, his face crimson as he reached out and grabbed Louis’s shirt, but clearly he believed what Louis had told him. Pulling the younger man close, he said urgently,

‘Don’t you ever, ever blab about this! Don’t you tell a soul!’

Shocked by the unprecedented physical contact with his mentor, Louis found refuge in humour.

‘Actually, Gideon, I was thinking of telling as many people who will listen. Crazy albino has visions…’

‘Do not treat this lightly!’ Gideon cut in, his quiet voice actually far more impressive than his usual full volume. ‘Don’t tell a soul! Trust no one! You haven’t told anyone, have you?’

‘Well…’

‘Who, you bloody idiot? Who have you told?’

‘Only Sarah, Gideon. If I can’t trust her, who can I trust?’

Gideon regarded Louis steadily for a few moments before replying.

‘Yes. You can trust Sarah, but I’d still ask you not to talk about this. Be careful, Louis, and do not go looking for the room or the man you have seen.’

‘You believe me then?’ asked Louis, eyes wide behind his dark glasses

‘Yes, I believe you. If this man appeals  to you again, ignore him. It’s not safe to follow these visions, not safe at all. Don’t put yourself at risk, Louis, and DO NOT talk about this idly!’

‘You almost sound like you care about me, Gideon,’ said Louis, laughing nervously in a bid to break the tension.

Gideon didn’t reply.

***********************

So there you have it. The beginning of DORY’S AVENGERS. I hope you enjoyed it; and who knows? I may sneak chapter two on here some time between now and 29 August.


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Author Interview – Janet Hopton

My apologies for not posting an author interview last week. It was a bit of a hectic week for me one way or another, but I’m back on the case now and would like to extend a very warm welcome to Janet Hopton. Janet’s fast paced thriller ‘Strange Days’ was published towards the end of 2012, and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to catch up with her and bombard her with questions.

Novel:  STRANGE DAYS

Purchase Strange Days on Amazon

UK link         US link

 

Alison – Hello Janet, welcome to my blog and thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Let’s start with your debut novel Strange Days. In your own words, please tell us more about the book and its launch.

JanetStrange Days is Crime/Thriller Fiction.  It is my debut novel and it tells the story of a young barmaid whose life is changed for ever when she gets herself involved, after witnessing a car accident.

Since the launch of Strange Days on the 29th of November 2012, I have done two book signings, one at Waterstone’s in Derby and another at Waterstone’s in Burton-on-Trent.  Both signings went very well resulting in 45 books been sold altogether.  Unfortunately, since then I have had a fall resulting in some injuries, which has meant that I haven’t been unable to do anymore promotion but I hope to get back on track very soon.  I intend to arrange more signings and talks at Women’s Institutes and Townswomen’s Guilds.

Alison – I’m sorry to hear about your accident, and hope you are on the mend now. I’m sure you’re looking forward to getting back to the business of promoting Strange Days. What inspired you to become an author in the first place?

Janet – Since being a teenager I have had it on my mind that I would like to write but for some reason never got started, other than writing a few poems.  It wasn’t until I was married and with teenagers of my own, did I decide to have a go.  It has always been in the back of my mind that I wanted to achieve something, to be recognised in someway, to leave something behind after I am gone.  Maybe that is my driving force!

Alison – I can’t think of anything better than books to leave behind for generations to come! Looking to authors from the past, do you feel that anyone in particular has influenced your writing?

Janet – I don’t think my writing has been influenced by any other authors.  I think it is entirely me, or am I being naive thinking that?  You ask which authors I like.  To be honest, I think I like the books rather than the authors.  A good book makes a good author and you have to be a good author to write a good book and there are many who fit that category.  I particularly like the classics, such as Dickens, The Brontes, Jane Austen but any good book will do!

Alison – I’m a big fan of Dickens myself, I love his turn of phrase. Was there anything in particular that gave you inspiration for Strange Days itself?

Janet – My inspiration for Strange Days was when I worked behind the bar in our local pub.  It came from observing the clientele and getting intrigued by them and wondering what their lives must be like.

Alison – People watching is something I guess all authors must do. Our characters would be a little boring otherwise! Going back to the subject of books in general, what are you reading at the moment, and what is your opinion?

Janet – The book that I am reading at the moment is Small Island by Andrea Levy.  I am enjoying reading it.  I thought at first that she was taking too long to get to the plot and going into too much detail about the characters in it but as I have read further I have found that she has brought the characters to life for me in a very interesting way.  I am only two thirds through it at the moment, therefore cannot give my full opinion on it.

Alison – I recently read a highly entertaining blog in which an author describes the rituals she has to perform before she begins writing for the day. A second author commented that she has to be wearing certain jewellery when she writes. Do you have any idiosyncrasies when you’re writing?

Janet – None in particular, other than that I like to be alone in the house when I write and nobody can see it until I am happy that it is finished.

Alison – I can relate to that. My poor partner gets snarled at if he so much as glances at my unedited work! As I’ve mentioned I’m reading a lot of excellent blogs by fellow authors, and one thing that intrigues me is the different writing styles each one has. Do you like to plan your work, or do you just see where the story takes you?

Janet – I didn’t plan Strange Days.  I had an idea and worked on it.  I let my imagination run away with me as I typed.

Alison – That’s very much how I write too. Once I get to know my characters the story becomes theirs and I just follow along to write it all down. I remember hearing an author speaking on a radio show, saying his characters told him when they considered it the right time to finish their story. Do you find your characters talk to you?

Janet – I haven’t noticed my characters talking to me, if they did I would worry that I was Schizophrenic, but I will say that I do become my main characters as I write.

Alison – That’s very interesting. My characters chat away to me all the time, but I’ve never felt that I was one of them. It just goes to show we all have our own unique ways of writing. It must be very exciting, and quite daunting, once your book is published and you know people are reading it, especially when those people start to write reviews. Has Strange Days received any reviews, and were you happy with them?

Janet –  I have had some favourable reviews, the ones on Amazon giving Strange Days 4* status and some on my Facebook Site – Fans of Strange Days, all very favourable.

Alison – Do you feel you have learnt anything throughout the publishing of Strange Days?

Janet – I think I learnt a lot from my publishing experience.  The way the process is done from the editing, through the proof reading and artwork stages.  I looked at self publishing at first but felt out of my depth, so I went through an independent publisher, Book Guild.  I was glad that I did, as when it came to promoting my book at Waterstones, I was told that they wouldn’t have been interested in it, if I had self-published.  I am not sure whether that is always the case!

On reflection I think I might have benefited from a more local publisher, the only reason I say this is that Book Guild Publishing is in Brighton and I am in Derby.  There were occasions that I thought maybe they would have attended promotional events if they had been closer and that I could perhaps have attended promotional events that they are involved with.

Alison – I think bookshops are becoming very wary of promoting unknown authors now, with all the competition from e-books making it harder and harder for them to survive. I’m convinced Waterstones would never have agreed to hosting my book launch had I not had the support of an established publishing firm. Aside from book signings, have you joined any book clubs or writers groups while promoting Strange Days?

Janet – I am not involved with any book clubs, but having said that I recently joined Vixen Fiction, a small group of ladies who like to write and meet at our local library once a month.  We have a trip to D H Lawrence’s House and Museum in Nottinghamshire coming up soon.

Alison – I’ve found networking with authors, editors and book lovers very useful as I approach the publication date of my novel. At the very least we can bounce ideas off one another, and I’ve made some useful contacts for when the time comes to get reviews rolling in. I’ve mentioned editing here; would any writing other than fiction, such as editing or script writing, appeal to you?

Janet – I would be interested in other writing ideas, such has writing plays but I am not sure how good I would be at it.  As for writing reviews, I don’t think that I am eloquent enough to do a good job, especially when there is so much at stake.  Editing is very specialist, I think one must need a degree in English Grammar to be able to do it.

Alison – I’m not so sure about that. Obviously, an editor needs a high standard of grammar and a good command of the language in general, as well as an eye for storylines and characterisation, but I think one can learn all that from being a voracious reader. You’re right about script writing, which I think is very different to writing a novel. As for reviewing, I think you do yourself a disservice! Anyone who can write a book deemed worthy of publication is eloquent enough to write a review. Revisiting the subject of editing again, do you think authors need to get their work professionally edited and proof read, or is it something they can do themselves?

Janet – I do think that professional editing and proof reading is essential for the publishing process for most of us.  I hope that someone edits and proof-reads this before it goes out!

Alison – Just me I’m afraid, although I may be able to persuade one of the lovely people at Book Guild to cast their expert eyes over it too! It’s no disrespect to an author’s talent, but I don’t believe anyone can successfully edit and proof read their own novel, and it’s a shame that some authors think a DIY job is a good way to save some money. Apart from employing the professionals to edit and proof read, is there any other advice you would give to a budding author?

Janet – My advice to any budding authors out there is to give it a go, what can you lose?  You will never know, unless you try!

Alison – I’ve recently received the first copies of my debut novel, which I found immensely exciting. What a great feeling it was to hold my book in my hands for the first time. How did you feel when the initial copies of Strange Days arrived?

Janet – I felt a bit overwhelmed when my book arrived all done and dusted.  In fact I made my husband open the box and look at it first.  My first reaction when I got my hands on it was ‘WOW’, it was a lovely book and nicely presented.  My only gripe was that I thought it would be thicker.  The strangest feeling was seeing it being advertised in Waterstones for my signing.  I then expected to see it everywhere, on bookshop shelves, in libraries, I guess that only happens, every blue moon!  Not giving up hope though!

When in London I called into The British Library and asked for it, only to be told I was too early as it takes more than six months to get there.  Must try again!

Alison – Are you planning a sequel to Strange Days?

Janet – I haven’t planned a sequel to Strange Days but it isn’t out of the question, especially as friends tell me that they need to know what happens next to some of my characters.

I do have another novel nearly finished and hope that my publisher will like it.

Alison – I shall keep my eyes open for that. Would you ever consider ghost writing a novel for a celebrity ‘author’?

Janet – Ghost Writing for a celebrity author – I think that if I was younger that would be a great idea.  I am not sure what the celebrity author would think of me doing it though.

Alison – Have you ever thought about Strange Days being made into a film or television drama? If so, would you like to appear in it?

 Janet – Some have said that Strange Days would make a good television drama, as for me starring in it; I think that would be best left to the actors.  Maybe an extra on set would be good!

Alison – Just a couple of general questions to round off the interview. What are your top five books, if you can narrow it down to five?

Janet – My five top books are:

  • Papillon – Henri Charierre
  • Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
  • Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
  • The Blind Miller (I like a good cry) – Catherine Cookson
  • The Secret Garden (Childhood Inspiration) – Frances Hodgson Burnett

Oh yes, I did like Puckoon (I also like a good laugh) – Spike Milligan

Alison – I loved The Secret Garden as a child too, I must have read it dozens of times. I do love my Kindle for its convenience, but I don’t think it will ever replace the pleasure of opening a brand new book and smelling the print before I delve into the story. Do you think there is a future for physical books, or will the e-book eventually take over completely?

Janet – I do hope that the future is okay for real, touchable, smellable books, however I think that there is a place for e-books to.  Perhaps everyone who purchases an e-book should buy a real book to make amends.  I can’t see readers loaning out their e-books, can you?

Alison – No, I can’t see that happening either; but, on the plus side for us authors, it means everyone will buy their own copy for their e-reader and we make more sales. Kerr-ching! Thank you very much Janet for taking part in this interview. It has been a real pleasure to chat and hear your news and views.

Janet – Thank you Alison, I think this is a great idea!

To find out more about Janet and her work, please visit her facebook page Fans of Strange Days or follow her on Twitter  

Author:  JANET HOPTON

 

The Joy of Recognition

It’s been said many times, but it bears repeating: I love writing. I have always loved writing. At school, the days on which my English teacher said, ‘Homework tonight is to write a story!’ were the days I loved best. Homework? Writing’s not work, it’s pure pleasure! Even as my classmates were moaning and groaning at the assignment, I’d already be working on storylines in my head, eager to get started.

Nothing’s changed a few decades on. My passion for writing hasn’t dimmed in the slightest; in fact, the more I write the more I want to write. Often after writing all day I will continue to write into the evening, with my partner imploring me to stop working and relax.

‘It’s all right,’ I reply. ‘I’m not working, I’m writing.’

In addition to fiction I write blog posts, reviews, interviews, and bit by bit people are starting to read my work. Nothing compares to the thrill of discovering that my website has gained another subscriber, or my blog has a thumbs up. Logging on to my computer is a joy at the moment; the delicious anticipation, followed by the excitement at discovering my latest post has received a new comment. I’m not naive enough to think the comments will always be favourable, and I’m already bracing myself for the first bad review my novel receives when it’s published next month. The thought that someone will one day pick holes in my baby scares me rigid, but I realise reviews are the lifeblood of new authors so I’ll be brave and take the bad along with the good. After all, a constructive criticism can be easily turned into a lesson learnt.

To date, though, I have had nothing but positive feedback for my blog posts, reviews, interviews. Whenever a stranger takes the time to read my writing and leave a comment it gives my sometimes fragile confidence such a massive boost. Every retweet on Twitter, every like on Facebook, every follower of my blog is another reason to keep writing, and every single recognition is important to me.

Thank you all. Happy Friday!

 

Author Interview with EMMA LONG

EMMA LONG

Today I am delighted to introduce EMMA LONG, my first interviewee and Quick & Easy Homemade Meals Book Coverauthor of the very well received cookery book ‘QUICK AND EASY HOMEMADE MEALS’, published by Book Guild. After several years working for The Swallow Hotel Group as an Assistant Manager, Emma set up her own Birmingham-based business, Emma’s Pantry, in 1998, which she ran until 2012 when she joined her family run property business full time. In response to demand from Emma’s Pantry staff and customers she created ‘QUICK AND EASY HOMEMADE MEALS’, in which she guides her hungry readers through easy to follow recipes making the most of common ingredients. Each recipe is accompanied by full colour photographs, showing the raw ingredients and the delicious meals that can be created.

When not cooking, Emma is a keen tennis player and gardener, an avid reader, and enjoys playing the guitar and drums. I’m delighted to say she has found time in her busy schedule to answer some questions for me. So without further ado, let’s welcome Emma and get to know her a little better.

Alison – Briefly describe your latest book / work in progress, along with details of book signings, release date (where relevant), promotional events etc.

Emma – My book “Quick and Easy Homemade Meals” was published in 2012 and is my first publication – It is as the cover states ‘A book of tasty recipes for the busy person’.

Each recipe is accompanied with a photo of the raw ingredients as well as one of the finished dish, something I feel is a unique selling point, as I have yet to discover a publication which has this feature.

I am currently writing my second book and have nearly finished ‘trying and testing’ the recipes. Additionally, I hope to combine both books to develop a student friendly version which will include advice on essential ingredients for the fridge, freezer, and store cupboard.

Alison – ‘Quick and Easy Homemade Meals’ is now on my wish list; my cookery skills are in need of some improvement! When and why did you decide to become and author?

Emma – I decided to become an author in 2011 and was inspired by not only my love of preparing food but also the pleasure I get from constructing a tasty dish by combining a few ingredients. I wanted to capture this inspiration in book form and so starting to write down my recipes.

Writing a book and having it published is a very satisfying and rewarding achievement – something I wanted to fulfil before my 40th birthday !

I do like a challenge and am always looking for new ways to add another ‘string to my bow’.

Alison – What are you reading at the moment, and what is your opinion?

Emma – I am a very keen reader and since 2010 and have on average been reading a book a week. I am currently in between books at the moment as I am just finishing “The Innocent” by Harlan Coben and am about to start “Inferno” the new novel by Dan Brown. I really enjoy Harlan Coben books as each chapter leaves you on the edge of your seat – really well written thrillers.

Alison – Has your book received favourable reviews ? Please feel free to quote from the reviews / and / or post links here.

Emma – Yes, I am pleased to say the Burton Mail (Saturday, 25th February, 2012) provided a very favourable review as have some customers on Amazon.

Caroline Kay from the Burton Mail wrote:

“I may not be a very adventurous cook, but I do like my cookery books.

Over the years I have acquired quite a few – but the one thing I like the most is to see a picture of each of the dishes which are included. Not all cookery books offer this luxury – in fact, many moons ago, I had one to review which didn’t have a single picture or illustration throughout.

Quick and Easy Homemade Meals, however, doesn’t just have a full colour photograph illustrating how each dish should look when prepared, but also a picture of the raw ingredients. Personally, I love this quirky addition.

The book is divided into 11 sections – beef dishes, pasta, chicken, fish, pork, lamb, vegetarian, alternative meals, side dishes, sauces, and sandwich fillings.

All the dishes are quick and easy to prepare and the majority don’t have a particularly long cooking time which is ideal for those, like me, who always seem to be in a rush. There is a good selection of recipes mixing classics with favourites and includes some interesting snacks and side dishes.

There are more than 100 recipes featured from an author who, unlike many of our cookery brethren, doesn’t believe in the motto ‘the more complicated the better’.

Chances are you will have most of the ingredients in your store cupboard, fridge and freezer.”

Amazon Customers have given my book a 5 star rating and the comments during 2012 – 2013 included:

“Great Book !”

“Quite a discovery”

“I highly recommend this book”

“Excellent cook book”

A local Birmingham magazine called “Gem” which is delivered to homes within the area have been very supportive, including me in two issues in 2012 and I have been approached by The Editor to write a feature for the July and August editions this year.

Recently, my old University, Oxford Brookes, from which I graduated in 1995, posted a profile detailing my career to date on their website. The link is here.

Furthermore, in order to promote my book I have designed a website  and have a dedicated Facebook page on which I post updates, news, and recipes:

Alison – It must be fabulous to know that people have not only bought ‘Quick and Easy Homemade Meals’ they have enjoyed it so much they review and recommend it. All the hard work and the long publishing process was definitely worthwhile. What have you learned from the publishing experience ? Are there things you would do differently in future ?

Emma – The publishing process was a completely new experience for me, but the publisher kept me informed at each stage so I knew what to expect. It could be said you learn from your mistakes the first time round which makes the publishing procedure easier and gives you a greater understanding for your second publication.

The Facebook page I created for my book has been very successful, and so in hindsight perhaps I should have designed one earlier, maybe pre-book launch, and thus I could have started to built an audience and gained more interest earlier.

Alison – Do you think professional editing and proof reading are essential parts of the publishing process ? Do you think an author can successfully perform these tasks themselves ? Please give reasons for your answer.

Emma – Most definitely these are essential parts. As an author you become very engrossed in your work and possibly overlook typographical errors and may miss out, in the case of a cookery book, the mention of a specific ingredient which has been listed but omitted from the method.

Proof reading and editing provide ‘a fresh pair of eyes’ and are beneficial tools in order to offer a critical evaluation.

Alison – I agree. Recently I saw a cartoon picture with the caption ‘Don’t ask an author to poof read their own work, they’ll only see whatever they intended to write’. In addition to employing the services of professional editors and proof readers, is there any other advice you would give to a budding author ?

Emma – Research your topic thoroughly and look for a USP (unique selling point) which will inevitably help sell your book. Don’t be disheartened by rejection use it positively – I was turned down by 14 Literary Agents until I found a publisher who saw the potential in my manuscript and I am now a publisher author !

Use the internet as a platform to showcase your work, such as creating a Facebook page and designing a website.

It you believe in your work, undoubtedly others will too, and thus you may well fulfil a niche in the market which has largely remained unexplored.

Alison – Social media is an invaluable marketing tool, isn’t it. After working so hard to find a publisher, it must have been great to see your book in print for the first time. How did you feel?

Emma – Thrilled and excited ! To see my initial manuscript turned into a book meant I fulfilled an ambition to be a published author by 40. As a new author the process felt quite daunting but I am delighted with the finished product. The support and positive comments have made the whole process worthwhile.

Alison – Do you think someone can be taught to write books, or is it a natural talent ?

Emma – I think there is a writer and book in everyone ! The word ‘talent’ is defined in the dictionary as an ‘ability’ which I believe each one of us has, but some may not realise. Our introduction to creative writing can start at an early age at school, but career choices, and experiences during life can provide material which could result in a book. I recommend putting pen to paper and let your creative juices flow !

Alison – What are your top five books ? A favourite series can count as one choice.

Emma- This is a very difficult question as I have enjoyed some many books by different authors over the years but I have managed to produce a short list as follows:

1)      “Angels and Demons” by Dan Brown

2)      “Hothouse Flower” by Lucinda Riley

3)      “Never Look Away” by Linwood Barclay

4)      “Tell No One” by Harlan Coben

5)      “Confessions of a Midwife” by Diane Chamberlain

Alison – Good choices! ‘Tell No One’ is a particular favourite of mine too. What do you think is the future for the physical book ? Do you think there will always be people buying hard copies of books, or will the e-reader take over completely ?

Emma – Sadly there has been a steady demise in the traditional High Street bookstore over the past few years as on line retailers, such as Amazon, have succeeded in meeting the demands of the consumer whose hectic life style limits their spare time and thus ordering a book via the internet, which can be delivered to your e-reader within seconds, removes the need to leave your desk to shop.

I, too have joined the growing band of people who own a Kindle (the device is certainly easier and weighs less to take on holiday than several novels !) and have recently uploaded a Kindle version of my book on to the Amazon website.

Perhaps, like a fashion item, the book will come back into vogue and the e-reader will become a less favourable mode of reading, only time will tell !

Alison – I think there will always be a call for real books as well as e-books, particularly for reference. I can’t imagine following recipes on my kindle, for example, so I’m sure there is a future for the traditional book. Let’s hope so!

Emma Long author photoThank you very much to Emma for her excellent comments. I hope you’ve enjoyed this interview as much as I have, and if you fancy trying Emma’s recipes for yourself QUICK AND EASY HOMEMADE MEALS can be ordered directly from Book Guild, or from  Amazon:       UK link     US Link

You can also follow Emma on FACEBOOK

Writing Techniques.

I am very sceptical of adverts inviting me to ‘learn how to write a novel’. How exactly? Yes a writing course can help to brush up on grammar, sentence construction and such like, but I don’t believe the ability to write wonderful stories is something that can be taught.

Until I started writing Dory’s Avengers, my first novel, I had absolutely no idea how I would go about it. Social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads offer the opportunity to interact with fellow authors, and I never tire of hearing their opinions and anecdotes. However, authors are unique, individual human beings with unique, individual writing techniques, and those techniques can only be developed by trial and error. Detailed planning works for a lot of top quality authors, but it wasn’t long before I discovered it doesn’t work for me.

I did actually make a plan for Dory’s Avengers before I started writing. This plan has long since disappeared into the murky depths of my computer, which is a shame as it would probably be quite hilarious to read it now. Give or take some characters’ names, it wouldn’t bear any resemblance to the finished novel. Through socialising with authors and reading their blogs, I’ve learned that many favour creating character biogs before starting on their novel, so I decided to give it one more try with book number two (unimaginatively entitled ‘New Book’ at the moment). Waste of time! Already the characters are swapping roles as the story develops; the protagonist’s best friend has gone bad, her boyfriend is not all he seems, the antagonist may or may not remain an antagonist; I can’t say for sure because I really don’t know yet.

It’s probably fair to say that my writing ‘technique’ is far too haphazard to even qualify as a technique. In fact, I just write. The ideas come spilling out of my head and I write them down as quickly as my rather limited typing ability will allow; then I read back, reject the rubbish and edit the rest into something fit for public scrutiny. No one reads my unedited work except me, and authors who favour planning would baulk at the size of my ‘rejected chapters’ folder, but this ‘write it and see’ method is the only one that works for me. I’ll wager it’s not a method any ‘writing by numbers’ course would advocate!

So to return to my original point, how exactly can a course teach someone to write a novel? I’ve picked up advice from blogs and discussion forums, and I’ve passed on advice to aspiring authors, but there is no magic formula. There is no ‘Just add water for an instant best-seller’. Actually, I think reading too much advice can be counter productive. How stifled would my writing become were I to put into practice everything I’ve learned from other writers? If you were born to write, you will find your style naturally. If you weren’t, no amount of qualifications will turn you into the next JRR Tolkien, Emily Bronte or Roald Dahl.