No Likey, No Writey?

Fiction writing is a funny pastime. You invent a load of imaginary friends, living pretend lives in made up circumstances. That alone is counter intuitive because all our lives we’re told to TELL THE TRUTH. “Did you break your brother’s toy, hmm? Mummy won’t be cross, because it’s more important to be honest”, is a lesson that stays with most of us for life (politicians, actors and psychopaths notwithstanding).

Then one day, you start writing a novel, and this comes with a different kind of truth. The truth of integrity and authenticity; realism = good, phoniness = bad, and readers can smell the difference a mile away.

Not surprising then that when it comes to writing fiction, most authors’ main characters are shot-through with a big dollop of themselves. Seeking Eden, my debut novel published by Urbane, was told from the viewpoint of four different characters and there’s a part of me in all of them– not least the two men.  In the case of Seeking Eden, I genuinely liked all my characters, even bad-boy Ben Wilde, because despite his ego being the size of Pluto, there’s an honesty and a sweetness that appeals. He’s sexy too – and without wanting to give too much away, love makes him a better person by the end of the book.

In the sequel, Eden Interrupted, I am facing a fresh challenge. In true sequel-style, the familiar meets the brand new, with old characters rubbing up against new, and this time there’s a snake in paradise; someone not wired like the rest of us whom we recognise as a villain at an early stage.

In movies, TV soaps and dramas, we love to hate the baddie; in literature too – who could fail to be transfixed by Amy in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl? Personally, I was mesmerised by her every ghastly move.

As for the creation of someone utterly unlikeable…well it’s a new one on me. I’m currently at the editing and fine-tuning stage (I hope – my publisher may tell me otherwise!) and I am being careful not to make him into a pantomime villain, because I, and more importantly, future readers still need to connect with him and understand why he is as he is and does what he does – which is not to excuse some of his chilling and wholly unpalatable actions.

So there’s no ‘No Likey, No Writey’ for me – it’s more a case of ‘Nasty Man, Reveal Yourself’.

Seeking Eden is available now on Amazon, Book Etc and in many bookshops. The sequel, Eden Interrupted is due for publication in Spring 2019 by Urbane Publications.

 

 

Book Review : Maria in the Moon by Louise Beech

Maria in the Moon is like one of those magic eye pictures popular in the 90s: It takes a while to see what you are looking at, but once you do, you’ll never see just a row of dots again.  It’s a clumsy analogy and I’m certain that Louise Beech, the eminently gifted author of this dark tale, could conjure a far better one.

I was attracted to this novel by its excellent reviews (many of them detailed) and I’d read the blurb so I sort of knew what I was getting and was excited by it.  I also figured out the theme and where it was all heading at an early stage, but as Maria in the Moon is not a whodunit, for me at least, this did not spoil the journey.

The premise of the book is that thirty-something Catherine Hope spends her time helping others to forget her own problems; if only she could remember what they are.  Because Catherine cannot recall the year she was nine years old.  Soon after volunteering at a Flood Crisis centre, she begins to experience broken sleep, night terrors and visions.  The book is a slow reveal of what happened to her that year and it is hard-hitting stuff.

The characterisation is brilliant – I felt I knew this woman; a misfit given to mood swings and self-sabotage, the reader feels keenly that Catherine is hanging on to sanity by her fingernails.  Other characters provide light relief, like flatmate ‘fluffy’ Fern – femme fatale and rookie columnist for a national newspaper, the vacuous and petulant Celine, Catherine’s step sister, and kind, caring Christopher, mentor, colleague and potential love-interest at the crisis centre.  Catherine’s cold and critical mother made my blood boil and her eternal grieving for her dead father made me weep.

Louise Beech’s writing style reminded me of Kate Atkinson’s in that she evokes a tide of emotion without mawkishness or cliché, and her prose is modern and fluid.

Maria in the Moon is moving and thought provoking throughout.  It’s an excellent, if uncomfortable read, and I highly recommend it.

 

Guard your writing time with your life

If you’re reading this in January, Happy New Year to you – I hope 2018 is the year your wishes come true. If you’re reading this retrospectively, you’ve probably already broken most of your resolutions and have slipped seamlessly back into normality.

In our house, on January 1st, no sooner had we vacuumed up the pine needles and put the fairy lights back in the loft (which is always a huge relief), Mark and I sat down with a (soft) drink to talk about the coming year and our hopes for it. Neither of us go in for the ‘give up smoking/drinking/ sugar’ style resolution, although we do practise dry January, and a short-term embargo on cake and chocolate to off-set the Christmas binge that inevitably takes place every year – oh, and we don’t smoke anyway. Nevertheless, there are things we both want to do differently in 2018 – subtle things, which will be life enhancing IF we manage to stick to them. I won’t bore you with our domestic Wishlist; like everyone, we have our hopes and dreams, but for me, one very important resolution is to PROTECT MY WRITING TIME, which frequently gets sabotaged. And the worse thing is – I let this happen. Because something always seems to get in the way of me dashing out that sparkling new chapter and instead, I’m lucky if I can eek out 500 words in one hit. I am a slave to distractions.

For example, we want to sell our house – so guess who gets to facilitate most of the various upgrades and improvements to make it more marketable – not to mention the frenzy of cleaning every time a potential buyer wants to look around. And yes, I willingly do all the cooking, food shopping, laundry and dog walking – because that is my role as I no longer work outside the house.

And do I decline when lovely friends invite me out for coffee/lunch/walks? I do not. Why? Because I am genetically incapable of saying NO THANK YOU – I MUST FINISH CHAPTER FORTY. Or, NO THANKS, I’M STRUGGLING WITH THE ACTIONS OF XYZ CHARACTER. And so off I go, to while away another hour or three, on another day when my novel does not progress.
So why do I find it so hard to focus on my second novel? My Debut, Seeking Eden, took a year to write, then a further six months to edit and polish. Number Two has already taken fifteen months to come up with a not-yet completed first draft.

My supportive and very patient publisher, Matthew at Urbane, may well be reading this. Sorry, boss. I am on it. So, the only New Year’s resolution that counts this year is to PROTECT MY WRITING TIME. There, I’ve said it. Again, and on record. Pass me another slice of chocolate cake, someone…

 

Happy Advent to all

For Christians Advent is a significant time of anticipation and preparation as we draw close to the birthday of Jesus Christ.

For the rest of us, it can mean panic stations as we realise just how close Christmas (and all the madness it entails) really is.  I wish I could say I was one of those clever people who have bought and wrapped all their presents, written and posted cards and ordered in an array of delicious Christmas food by December 1st.  Personally, I’m a ‘leave it all to the last minute’ kinda gal.  I’m not proud of it, just disorganised.

And as for decorations, I love them, but a beautiful real tree usually goes up in our house about a week before Christmas Day.  Not so the goodly people of the new town in Kent where I live.  I am astonished by the number of houses that have been sporting full Christmas regalia since mid-November.

I’ve lived in this area for almost ten years and I cannot remember Christmas ever starting so early.  Is it because it has been a truly dreadful year in terms of loss of life due to acts of terrorism in the UK?  Has the misery of Brexit played a part in wishful escapism?  Are we all totally Trumped-out?

Perhaps many of us simply long for some magic and sparkle (in addition to the Markle variety) to help cheer us up after such a difficult year.  Personally, I think putting a Christmas tree up so early is daft.  I say this mainly from a practical point of view.  Surely any real tree (with the exception of eco-friendly potted and still-growing ones) would be bald and listing by Christmas Day.  Just sayin’.

I smiled to myself when I spotted neighbouring houses all festively lit up two weeks ago.  It’s a poorly kept secret that my novel Seeking Eden was inspired by the community I live in and I was reminded of these two short passages, about two very different Christmases…

Novel Extract

Martin

Christmas came early in Eden Hill.  By the first week in December at least one house in every street was bedecked with fairy lights; it was fast gaining a reputation as ‘nappy valley’ and pester-power had a lot to answer for.

Any evidence of festive spirit only depressed Martin as he contemplated Christmas alone.  It was incredible the speed with which his life had derailed.  Jan showed no sign of returning, preferring (absurdly, in his view) to stay with her brother at his bleak seaside bunker.

Hayley and Simon had patched things up (to a degree, there was still no evidence of a ring on her finger) and they’d mooted going to Tenerife for the holidays.

Martin shook his head; focus.  Melancholy was slowing him down and he was already running late for his meeting at the Farleigh house.  Parking directly outside, he walked up the path and rang the bell.  A dog barked.  Perhaps he should get a pet – at least a dog wouldn’t up and leave on a whim…

*

Lisa

On Saturday afternoon, Ben had taken Lisa to a reindeer farm.  It was for kids, but she’d been ridiculously excited, rubbing the animals’ fuzzy noses and feeding them carrot sticks from her pockets.  Ben had feigned cynicism, but she saw through it; he was even more of a big-kid than she was.

The next day, they’d gone in search of a Christmas tree and after ten minutes in the car, they’d pulled into a layby off the A20, where a twenty stone man dressed as an elf was selling a selection of beautiful pines ranging from deepest bottle green to a dusty blue.

Picking a six-footer, it was a miracle they managed to get the tree home without being stopped by the Police as it skewered the length of Ben’s car, its spiny tip bent out of the passenger window.   Lisa howled with laughter all the way home, imagining the spectacle.

Then they’d put on Christmas Carols and decorated the scented pine, drinking mulled wine and eating nuts and Twiglets.

‘Pinch me,’ Lisa said puckering up for a kiss.

‘Are you happy, baby?’ Ben said, with that languid sexy smile of his that reliably turned her spine to jelly.

‘More than I thought possible,’ Lisa said…

*

Seeking Eden is published by Urbane and is available on Amazon and in many good book shops

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Seeking-Eden-Beverley-Harvey/dp/1911331892/

 

 

Like it or not you can’t ignore Halloween

Like it or loath it, you can’t miss Halloween. From early September, the supermarkets are full of creepy snacks and itchy kids’ costumes. I live in a community which is very child centric and families go to incredible lengths to decorate their homes. I’m not talking Jack O’Lanterns in the window, or spray cobwebs on the porch here, but sometimes whole graveyards in the front garden, complete with stray bloodied body parts and hammer horror organ music that trips on as you walk by.

One nearby street, which has a great many children of school age living in it, becomes a veritable Halloween theme park for the best part of a week and come the big night, children queue in the most genteel and orderly fashion to collect their Trick or Treat sweets. Weeelll… it’s only a bit of fun!

Here’s what happened to Kate, one of the main characters in my debut novel, Seeking Eden.  Sound familiar…?

Novel Extract from Seeking Eden, published by Urbane

High on sugar, three little spooks jostled at the door, out-creeping each other in their lurid nylon costumes and masks.
‘Trick or treat!’ they yelled in unison.
‘Treat!’ Kate said, holding out a tray of home-baked spooky-iced biscuits she’d copied from a TV show that morning.
‘Haven’t you got any proper sweets?’ said a tiny ghost who could have been either boy or girl.
‘These are proper…have one, they’re delicious.’
‘Are they gluten free?’ said the tallest of the trio.
‘What? Er, no…I’m afraid they aren’t.’
For god’s sake! She hadn’t expected to negotiate with a bunch of pre-schoolers about the quality or allergen risks of her Halloween snacks.
In another hour, Neil would be home for their mid-week meal together, at which point, they’d hide out in the back of the house and stop answering the door; a relief no doubt, to poor Ludo, who was exhausted from running up and down the hallway to guard against ghouls and evil spirits every ten minutes or so.
Arriving right on schedule, Neil looked tired.
‘Hello, sweetheart – what smells so good?’ He said, draping his jacket over the stair banisters. Sighing, Kate hung it in the hall closet.
‘Well not my Halloween biscuits, apparently. Next year, I’ll just get a bag of chocolate mini-bars like everyone else. I’ve made shepherd’s pie. You look shattered darling; are you okay?’ Kate said, removing a piping hot dish from the oven…

 

You can read more at : https://www.amazon.co.uk/Seeking-Eden-Beverley-Harvey/dp/1911331892/

Happy Halloween!

Review: Rolling Stones ‘No Filter’ Tour

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Lucca, Italy, 23rd September 2017: The Struts, fronted by Luke Spillers who is surely the love child of Freddie Mercury and Ian Astbury, have done an excellent job of keeping us entertained for thirty minutes and have just left the stage.  And then it begins; Woo-woo…woo-woo…woo-woo…woo-woo. A whisper that soon becomes a roar.

Like 55,000 owls, we hoot in the dark, feathers quivering with anticipation. At 21.12 we are rewarded as Mick Jagger takes the stage.  Woo-woo…woo-woo; now our nocturnal call is mixed with thunderous applause and euphoric screaming that could wake Lucifer himself as the Stones unleash Sympathy for the Devil. We are hypnotised by Jagger’s performance, which is everything it should be; dark, dangerous, flawless.

Rubber lipped and limbed, Mick Jagger struts the stuff of legend and at 74 there is no sign of his energy diminishing. It’s Only Rock n Roll (But I Like It), swiftly follows and becomes a mass singalong. There are whoops of joy for Tumbling Dice, then there’s a change of tempo as things get distinctly Bluesy for Just Your Fool; this comes with the joy of Mick Jagger’s very fine harmonica playing.

Ride ‘Em Down (another cover) and Let’s Spend the Night together are perfectly executed but not personal favourites so I can breathe again.

Touchingly, when we get to As Tears Go By, an unbeknownst talent emerges as Mick sings in Italian to the delight of our host country, although it seems that the distraction of performing in a foreign language leads to some timing issues…more about that later.

Then we rip through You Can’t Always Get What you Want, Paint it Black and Honky Tonk Woman – all faithfully reproduced just as we know and love them.  Afterwards Mick introduces the rest of the band, including backing vocalists, sax, base and keyboard players, before getting Ronnie, Charlie and Keith to reluctantly take a bow.  At this point, I should say that they all look incredible.

The subject of Ronnie Wood’s health has been hogging the headlines for months and despite his public battle with cancer, he looks well, energised and very lovely indeed. Keith is still the adorable rapscallion of old, and Charlie looks…well…exactly like Charlie – which is just how we like him. I’ve no idea what these guys are on, but if it could be bottled we’d all be queuing round the block for it.

Jagger then disappears for ten minutes or so (for a cuppa tea, lie-down, vitamin shot – who knows) while we are treated to Keith Richards on vocals for Happy and a poignant version of Slipping Away; during the latter, he struggles a bit at each end of the register. Nobody cares – Keith is utterly loved, embraced, forgiven.

When Mick bursts back onto the stage, it is for Miss You and he’s got his guitar in tow. We are invited to sing along and we do. Later, Start Me Up, Brown Sugar and Satisfaction all ramp up the energy again before a brief blackout leaves us shouting for Gimme Shelter.  Our wishes are granted with a rousing encore consisting of exactly that and finally Jumping Jack Flash – the end chords of which literally explode through the night sky in a shower of glittering stardust and firecrackers.

And then it is all over and it hurts. Because here’s the thing. The affection that wraps Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts like a cashmere blanket is tangible. Tonight’s capacity crowd of 55,000 people from all over the world, aged eighteen to eighty proves that.

For balance, I should say that there were minor issues with timing; occasions where Keith and Ronnie’s guitars and Mick’s vocals did not marry up.  But this is not The X-Factor, where hopefuls who’ll be forgotten this time next year must prove accuracy – and it couldn’t matter less.  Because the Rolling Stones are still the best rock and roll band in the world.  End of.

 

Book Review: The Girlfriend by Michelle Frances

I’ve just read and thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Girlfriend’ by Michelle Frances, published by Pan Macmillan.

It’s a psychological thriller with the ‘thriller’ aspect ramping right up in the last third of this uncomfortable yarn.

The premise is simple.  Ambitious working class gold digger sets out to ensnare a wealthy husband.  This seems eminently possible when Cherry, who is amply endowed with both a high functioning brain and a beautiful face, meets Trustafarian Daniel, a young Doctor in waiting whom she encounters while working in a Kensington estate agency.

Blown away by his new girlfriend’s good looks and air of mystery (Cherry is frugal with information about her background), Daniel takes her home to meet his high net worth parents. Almost immediately, Cherry locks antlers with Laura, Daniel’s sleek and urbane mother.

There’s nothing new about the rivalry that exists between mothers and potential daughters in-law, but what is so gripping about Michelle Frances’ debut novel is just how ruthless both women are prepared to be.

In terms of characterisation this is a double edged sword; on one hand, it certainly ups the ante as seeing each woman’s perspective is equally tense.  But on the other, the reader doesn’t know who to root for.

There are some gob-smacking plot surprises. The story takes a dramatic turn at the halfway mark and this is where readers could find their empathy switching at regular intervals.

There are inconsistencies; I was frustrated by Daniel, who is presumably intelligent as he’s a newly qualified Doctor, and yet he isn’t savvy enough to see the skulduggery going on around him.

Overall, all the characters are well drawn and the descriptions of affluent West London are authentic.  I also enjoyed the subplots concerning Laura’s grisly dead-in-the-water marriage to Howard, and Cherry’s devoted and well-meaning mum Wendy.

To say anything further about this book would be plot-spoiling, so that’s it from me. I give The Girlfriend Five Stars.

 

 

 

 

Do not mourn the end of summer; autumn has its own precious gifts

Extract from Seeking Eden

Chapter 8 : Regrets

Image result for the scent of autumnAfter breakfasting on eggs Benedict in the hotel’s elegant atrium, Kate and Neil pulled on walking boots and set out for the forest.

‘I think autumn will come early this year, don’t you?’ Kate said.

‘Maybe it just feels that way because we don’t want summer to end,’ Neil said.

A sharp nip had crept into the air and the trees were beginning to yellow.  The forest had taken on a musty scent as clusters of pungent mushrooms pushed through the earth.  Neil put out his arm, stopping Kate in her tracks, and pointed to a sturdy bird barely visible in the foliage.

‘That,’ he whispered, ‘is a Green Woodpecker; isn’t he a beauty?’

*

I was reminded of this short passage from Seeking Eden on my walk with Brodie this morning.  Chatting to other dog walkers, the consensus seemed to be a sadness that summer is nearing its end; apparent not only by the date, but by the darkening sky, and falling temperatures.

But autumn has a glory all of its own, particularly September when nature’s bounty goes into overdrive and the heady scents of wild berries in the hedgerows compete with myriad fungi that burst through the soil so fast – stand still long enough and you can almost see them growing at your feet.

Oh, and the shrubs! I defy anyone not to smile as they are enveloped by the scent of Elaeagnus, which thrives from the end of August right through to October when it’s unassuming Bay-style foliage sprouts tiny white bells heady with the perfume of nutmeg and orange blossom.

Even the dry, pungent smell of rotting fallen fruit in the orchards and fields has its own allure – a sense of nature’s goodness returning to the earth in its rightful and endless cycle.

But not all the joys of autumn are to be found outside.  It’s a wonderful time of year to cosy up at home; to cook simple, hearty food for family and friends; to curl up in a favourite armchair and get lost in a wonderful book, or to enjoy the best season for drama on television (the networks know a thing or two about keeping us entertained as the nights draw in).

So if you’re feeling sad as summer draws to a close – just look around you; at what autumn has to offer, all too briefly, before being snatched away and replaced by its darker half-sibling, winter, which for me is the most unwelcome season of all.

 

 

A published author at last

July 6th dawned much like any other in our house.  By 5.00am my workaholic partner Mark was bound for the red-eye to Glasgow, leaving me and our terrier Brodie to doze for another hour or so.

My waking thought was ‘Whoopee!  Today’s publication day for Seeking Eden!’  But it’s hard to get excited on your own.

So, after walking Brodie, in an act of shameless self-promotion, I posted ‘Happy Publication Day to Me’ on Facebook and Twitter.  This sparked a flurry of congratulations, likes, loves, and kind comments and I waited to feel different in some way.  Two-and-a-bit weeks later, I am still waiting.  Or rather I’m not, because I soon realised that there will be no epiphany – no thunderbolt, just a mild sense of personal achievement.

A week later, my launch party was a success – and quite wonderful.  I felt blessed to be surrounded by forty-odd friends, family and neighbours, every one of them there to wish me well and congratulate me on getting published.

Mark, my long suffering partner, was beyond generous in giving me such a gracious event – the prosecco, conversation and laughter flowed for hours.

Matthew Smith, founder of Urbane Publications (the publisher I am signed to) was kind enough not only to give up an evening and come along, but also to say a few words.  An accomplished public speaker, Matthew began with the words ‘they say there’s a book inside everyone – for most people it should probably stay there.’  We all got the joke.

Speeches and me are not a match made in heaven – put me in a room with lots of people and the phrase rabbit in headlights comes to mind.  Nevertheless, I just about managed to squeak some thank yous, before the drinking and volume went up a notch and the book signing commenced.

And this was to be the biggest surprise of the evening.  Matthew had kindly supplied a box of books should anyone wish to buy on the night.  I’d been convinced that only a handful of people would buy Seeking Eden – because either they’d already ordered from Amazon, or because they may wish to buy a copy in the future – but what was the rush?  It was a party for goodness’ sake!

I could not have been more wrong.  Even friends who had already bought and read the book were queuing up for me to sign three or four copies that they were giving to friends and family.  It was surreal.  I felt daft doing it – and weird knowing that people were paying to read my novel.

Somehow, I managed to spend several hours in a room with forty-plus people and speak to no one.  I was spinning; vague, vacant, vacuous.  I’m glad that the very talented Clair Goble was there to capture the event in photo-form, because I remember so little of the night; everything and nothing. I blinked and it was over.

So in lieu of my incoherent murmurings on the night, here are some thank yous.

Matthew Smith; you rock for taking a chance on an unknown tentative author who is rubbish at pitching and promotion, but who loves telling stories.  Thank you.

Mark Payton; what have I done to deserve you?  The weight of those wings must surely pull you down some days because you are an angel for sure.  Thank you.

Marika Cooke; wow!  The best bit of PR I could have asked for; thank you for writing a stunning review and background piece in Kings Hill Mums, our favourite community read.

David Harvey, Lyn Beer, Ali & Rob Gooderham, Josh, Lewis and Claire: As families go, I hit the jackpot – can’t thank you enough for all your support and encouragement.

And to everyone else who celebrated Seeking Eden at the launch party – my goodness, you scrub up well, you beautiful people.  Thank you for all your support.

A battery of further thank yous can be found on the Acknowledgements page of Seeking Eden. Out now on Amazon, soon to be in WH Smiths and other good book shops.  Woohoo!

Images by Clair Goble https://www.flashbangphoto.co.uk

The moving target of ‘success’

When I was 28, I wrote my first novel.  It was garbage, littered with clichés, adverbs and flowery similes. I printed one copy, then put it away – in the round filing cabinet that lives under my desk.

Roll forward twenty four years and I had another stab at it.  This one was better, but abandoned at the 45,000 words mark as the plot was weak and it ran out of steam.  ‘How come everyone’s written a book, if it’s this difficult?’ I thought.

The following year, I started a third.  And stuck with it – a 90,000 word contemporary women’s fiction novel called ‘Beginner’s Guide to Burb Watching’.  It took another year to edit and polish, and to find a publisher who liked it enough to back an unknown author.

Remarkably (to me at least), with the new moniker of Seeking Eden and a cover I never tire of looking at, that book is due for publication on 6th July. It’s very exciting, and it makes me smile to think of people being entertained or otherwise affected by something that formerly dwelt only in my imagination.

People keep congratulating me – which is lovely and I’m thankful.  But writing is a funny thing; it messes with your head.

When I started writing Seeking Eden, I thought: If I can just get to the end of this one, I’ll feel I’ve succeeded.  Once that was achieved, honing and polishing my rough manuscript became an ambition in itself.  And then I wanted to publish; to share my work with readers – which is kind of the point, isn’t it?

I was overjoyed when independent publisher Urbane offered to release Seeking Eden; at last, success was within my grasp!  Then like a shimmering mirage, as I walked towards it, success moved away, always ahead, warm and tantalising.  Now I see that writing a novel and even publishing one is not the Holy Grail.

So, new day, new objectives; now I want people to buy it, like it, and say nice things about it.  So when does writing a book begin to feel like a success?  Perhaps (dare to dream) when I’ve sold a few thousand copies?  Then again, knowing me, I’d want Seeking Eden made into a film or a three part BBC drama, with a stellar cast.  Some people are never happy!

Sincere thanks for all the wonderful support from friends and family and from my fellow Urbane authors – you are too kind and I am very grateful.

Seeking Eden is released 6th July on Urbane Publications.