Sunday, 20 December 2015

Quest to have the best Christmas decorated office

Welcome to our workshop
Our department at work decided to run a competition to find the best Christmas decorated office. My manager decided our team would go all-out this year, and my colleagues and I got very creative in our bid for glory.

Enchanted Wood scene

Let it snow!

Results were announced on Friday - and our team WON!

Quest: successful!

My manager is already planning for next year's competition.

(And when she found out I'd written a couple of pantomimes for my local drama group in the past, her eyes took on a furtive gleam...Yikes!)

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Smiling at Rafe Spall

Film trailers at Glenside campus
So, last month I visited a film location - Chavenage House near Tetbury. This month, I was within smiling distance of a film star - and I didn't even have to travel outside my usual locale to do so!

A TV crew rolled up at Glenside Campus this week to film scenes for Mum's List, a film based on the book by St John Greene. The true story is about a woman dying of breast cancer who gave a list of instructions to her husband to raise their two sons. Things like 'Celebrate birthdays big time' and 'Go to Egypt and snorkel in the Red Sea.'

Emilia Fox (Merlin, The Wrong Mans, The Casual Vacancy, Silent Witness) plays the part of Kate Greene, whilst Rafe Spall (Life of Pi, I Give It A Year, Prometheus) plays her husband.

The TV crew took over the students' car park with their trailers (which probably didn't go down very well with the students who then had to find somewhere else to park) and there were 'ML' signs dotted around certain parts of the campus.

Rafe Spall and Emilia Fox's trailer
There was no sign of either Rafe Spall or Emilia Fox when I walked through the car park on my way into work this morning, and both their trailer doors were firmly shut. However, when I walked past later on my way home, Rafe Spall's door was open and he was sat inside!

I smiled in at him.

He smiled* back.

My heart missed a beat; a film star had smiled at me! Wow!

I carried on walking. (Playing it cool, obvs.)

I was so, so tempted to turn back around and strike up a conversation, or ask if I could take his photo, but I restrained myself. I didn't want to be the one to break his concentration if he was mentally preparing himself for his next traumatic scene. (Besides which, I had a book I wanted to return to the library before it closed. Priorities, right?)

So, fellow Quest Seekers, have you ever approached anyone famous? And would you have approached Rafe if you'd been in my shoes?

*It might've been a grimace - he was looking a mite bored as he sat there on his lonesome in his trailer.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Quest to visit a film location

Chavenage House, Tetbury
The Ghost of Greville Lodge
Earlier this year, I watched a film called The Ghost of Greville Lodge (2000), which stars George Cole and Prunella Scales. In it, a teenage boy becomes involved in a ghost mystery when he stays at his great uncle's country manor, and the film is based on the book DOWN CAME A BLACKBIRD by Nicholas Wilde.

I was absolutely enchanted by the gorgeous manor house that stood in for Greville Lodge and longed to pay a visit to see its charms for myself. Imagine my delight when, upon investigation, I found it was located about 30 miles from where I live - fantastic!

Portrait of David Lowsley-Williams
I visited Chavenage House near Tetbury this weekend and was given a very enjoyable tour by the current owner, David Lowsley-Williams. He's a gifted raconteur, and you certainly get your money's worth when he gives the guided tour (in fact, the tour his grandson gave which followed at least half an hour after ours was rapidly catching us up!).

The Cotswold manor house has been almost unchanged for four centuries and, as a result, has been used as a period film and TV location for over twenty years. Agatha Christie: Poirot - The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1990), The House of Eliott (1991), Cider with Rosie (1998), Lark Rise to Candleford (2008), Tess of the D'Ubervilles (2008), and Wolf Hall (2015) have all filmed here.

Unsurprisingly, there has been an upsurge in visitors this summer due to the location being used in the BBC's popular Poldark (2015), starring Aidan Turner (a.k.a. Kili in The Hobbit trilogy, and the very swoonsome vampire Mitchell in Being Human). The TV crew are due to return this October to film for the second series.

If you're ever in the area when the house is open to the public (Thursdays and Sundays from 1st May to 30 September), I'd highly recommend a visit. Here are some more pics to whet your appetite:

Elizabethan memorial figures found in the porch of the Chapel

Tapestry in Cromwell's Room

Ireton's Room with Flemish tapestry

Have you visited any film or TV locations?

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Quest to find DAMAGE DONE by Amanda Panitch

I recently went to Orlando on holiday with my sister and her family, and I had a fab time visiting the various theme parks. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was the highlight for me - I was even able to buy a keyring there with my name on it.

I didn't plan it this way, but Amanda Panitch's book, DAMAGE DONE, was having its release date whilst I was in the States, and I was determined to track down a copy. Amanda and I have been critique partners/beta readers for several years (we met on the Absolute Write forum), and I am beyond thrilled she's a published author now. I couldn't make it to Amanda's launch party on 21st July, which was held at Books of Wonder in New York, but I went to the Florida Mall that day to see if I could find the book out in the wild. Now, there were about 250 stores there, but could I find a bookstore? Nope (major disappointment, but my suitcase and the weight allowance for the flight home were probably thankful!).

Luckily, I already had my signed copy winging its way to me, and DAMAGE DONE arrived a couple of days after I returned home - yay!

Here's the blurb about the book:

22 minutes separate Julia Vann's before and after.

Before: Julia had a twin brother, a boyfriend, and a best friend.

After: She has a new identity, a new hometown, and memories of those twenty-two minutes that refuse to come into focus. At least, that's what she tells the police.

Now that she's Lucy Black, she's able to begin again. And her fresh start has attracted the attention of one of the hottest guys in school, a boy who will do anything to protect her. But when someone much more dangerous also takes notice, Lucy's forced to confront the dark secrets she thought were safely left behind.

One thing is clear: The damage done can never be erased. It's only just beginning. . . .

Sounds deliciously page-turning, right? It is! Go buy a copy and see for yourself (you might even spot my name in the acknowledgements page!). :o)

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Ever wanted a caricature of yourself?

The Duke & Duchess of Cambridge
Helen and Kirk (from drama group)

Since Kevin Rye joined my local drama group some fifteen-plus years ago, he's used his artistic talents to create wonderful backdrops for our productions. He's also written and directed plays, as well as acted in them (and will appear as Sweeney Todd in our October production of 'Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street' by C. G. Bond).

I've often told Kevin his backdrops are so impressive, he should hire himself out to paint murals for people, but, alas, his answer is just a wry (Rye?) chuckle. I'll keep persevering though! (One day, Kevin, one day...)

Anyway, Kevin has now branched out into the art of caricatures, so if you're looking for a caricature of yourself or a family member or friend, then visit Rye Smile Caricatures to see what he can offer. His caricatures can also add fun to a live event, so look no further if you want a special memento of your wedding day, birthday party, corporate event or other celebrations.

To add to his many talents, Kevin also has impressive Ninja skills when it comes to catching bees (as witnessed at a recent drama rehearsal). So far, I'm still waiting to see his caricature of this awesome event!

Happy Independence Day to my American readers, btw! And Happy Wedding Anniversary to Kevin and Jill!  J

Russell Brand
Simon Cowell

Kevin Rye

Sunday, 28 June 2015

The Writer's Voice 2015 - my overall experience and the agent round

View from Fenella's island
The sun has set on another The Writer's Voice, and what an experience it's been for me this year!

I first took part in 2013 and, whilst I wasn't chosen for a team that year, I was an honourable mention for one coach. I joined Twitter after seeing many of the other entrants interacting over there, and I also received some wonderful feedback on my query and first 250 words.

As entrants were encouraged to support the other entries, I commented on a lot of blogs and, me being me, I subscribed to the posts in case anybody replied to me. Little did I know what a fabulous idea that was at the time! A few days later, the coaches started making their picks - and this is when my inbox started filling up with all these subscription notifications. I reported those picks on Twitter under the #TheWVoice hashtag, and other entrants were very grateful for the information.

Last year, I didn't make it past the Rafflecopter (random generator to select entries), but that didn't stop me from participating. I commented on as many entries as I could and subscribed to the posts, so when the coaches started making their picks, I could again report my findings. Due to the restrictive nature of Twitter posts, I decided to make a couple of blog entries to keep track of selections. The coaches, as well as the entrants, found this very helpful.

So, 2015 rolls around, and I have a new manuscript to enter into The Writer's Voice. But when was the contest taking place? The first mention I found was in a 'P.S.' Mónica Bustamante Wagner put in a blog post in March. Game on! I made it past the Rafflecopter and posted my entry on my blog in May. I then commented on most of the other entries and again subscribed to the posts. I found out Twitter names for most people and directed them over to #TheWVoice, if they weren't already aware of it. The coaches started making their selections on Monday 25th May and I had a hard job keeping up with the notifications coming in, announcing the news to the waiting contestants on Twitter and updating my blog post with the results. At the end of that day, several coaches had chosen the same people, so the entrant then had to choose between the coaches. This selection process took place over several days, and I hadn't been selected by any of the coaches in the initial rounds.

Then, that Thursday, my Twitter feed and my blog post had exploded overnight with activity. Monica had selected ME to join her team but, because of the time difference between us, I'd already gone to bed before I found out. I was gobsmacked (and totally overwhelmed by all the love and support from the other entrants)! My 'quest to be selected as a ‘The Writer’s Voice’ team member – 2015 edition' was a roaring success - hoorah!

Over the course of the next few weeks, Monica and her guest coach, Stephanie, helped me polish my query and first 250 words. The 32 entries went live on the coaches' blogs on Friday 19th June, and the agents stopped by on Tuesday 23rd June to vote. I'm very pleased to report my entry received three votes, and I've now submitted my manuscript to those agents.

Overall, there were 75 requests made for 26 entries (or 81 requests for 27 entries, if you include the two Ninja agents who voted). Entrants who received three or more votes would be able to send a full manuscript to the requesting agents, whilst those with one or two votes could send a partial.

Here's the breakdown of votes received per age range/genres:

MG Fantasy - 3
MG Magical Realism - 1
Upper MG Fantasy - 3
Upper MG Mystery - 1

YA Contemporary - 9
YA Contemporary Fantasy - 6
YA Fantasy - 13
YA Historical - 7
YA LGBT Contemporary - 1
YA Mystery - 5
YA SF - 7
YA Space Opera - 4

NA Contemporary Romance - 7

Adult Literary - 3
Adult Psychological Thriller - 1
Adult Steampunk - 3
Adult Women's Fiction - 1

The agents voted for this number of entries:

Caitie Flum of Liza Dawson Associates - 6 (3 fulls, 3 partials)
Mollie Glick of Foundry Literary + Media - 6 (6 fulls)
Erin Harris of Folio Literary Management - 5 (4 fulls, 1 partial)
Lauren MacLeod of The Strothman Agency - 7 (5 fulls, 2 partials)
Sara Megibow of kt literary - 1 (1 full)
Renee Nyen of kt literary - 4 (2 fulls, 2 partials)
Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency - 4 (4 fulls)
Carrie Pestritto of Prospect Agency - 13 (12 fulls, 1 partial)
Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency - 4 (3 fulls, 1 partial)
Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger, Inc. - 11 (10 fulls, 1 partial)
Courtney Stevenson of Pippin Properties - 7 (6 fulls, 1 partials)
Caryn Wiseman of Andrea Brown Literary Agency - 7 (6 fulls, 1 partial)

#TeamMaries won The Writer's Voice 2015 with 21 votes. #TeamCoffeeHouse had 20 votes. #TeamTRex had 19 votes. And #TeamFTW had 15 votes.

I hope to be back again next year with my trusty spreadsheet in hand, ready to go blog diving and reporting once again. I love the Writer's Voice! J

Monday, 25 May 2015

The Writer's Voice 2015 - Teams and Battles

Will there be fisticuffs amongst The Writer's Voice coaches this year as they fight over entries for their teams? Last year, Elizabeth Briggs won two out of her three battles, and I'm sure she'll be hoping for victory again in this stage of the competition.

You can check out our entries here, and if you haven't already joined us over on Twitter, then do stop by #TheWVoice.

The coaches have until 4th June to select their teams, and I'll do my best to keep track of things here in the meantime. A breakdown of all the entries is found in my previous post.

ETA: If a coach makes a pick on a blog, I'll slot that entry under that coach's team. If more than one coach selects it, it'll drop into the 'BATTLES!' section instead until the entrant chooses which team they're going to join.


Brenda (#TeamCoffeeHouse): #76,  #78#107#116#151#163#177#194
#116 = MG Fantasy
#107 = Upper MG Fantasy
#076 = YA Contemporary
#078 = YA Contemporary
#151 = YA Contemporary
#163 = YA Contemporary Fantasy
#177 = Adult Psychological Thriller
#194 = Adult Women's Fiction

Elizabeth (#TeamTRex): #19#59#64#90#106#137#158,  #164,  #178
#019 = MG Fantasy
#090 = YA Contemporary (Withdrawn from contest)
#164 = YA LGBT Contemporary
#137 = YA Fantasy
#178 = YA Fantasy
#064 = YA Horror
#059 = YA Space Opera
#106 = NA Contemporary Romance
#158 = Adult Steampunk

Krista (#TeamMaries): #29,  #67,  #69#81#109#140#159#169
#069 = MG Fantasy
#159 = MG Magical Realism
#140 = YA Adventure/Romance
#029 = YA Fantasy
#081 = YA Historical
#067 = YA Mystery
#109 = YA SF
#169 = Adult Literary

Monica (#TeamFTW): #16#57#73#79#98#113#131#172
#079 = Upper MG Mystery
#057 = YA Fantasy
#073 = YA Fantasy
#113 = YA Fantasy
#098 = YA SF
#172 = YA SF
#016 = NA Contemporary Romance
#131 = Adult Fantasy

Brenda v Elizabeth (#116 = MG Fantasy) - WINNER: Brenda
Brenda v Elizabeth (#106 = NA Contemporary Romance) - WINNER: Elizabeth
Brenda v Krista (#169 = Adult Literary) - WINNER: Krista
Brenda v Monica (#107 = Upper MG Fantasy) - WINNER: Brenda
Elizabeth v Krista (#81 = YA Historical) - WINNER: Krista
Elizabeth v Monica (#178 = YA Fantasy) - WINNER: Elizabeth
Krista v Monica (#069 = MG Fantasy) - WINNER: Krista
Krista v Monica (#172 = YA SF) - WINNER: Monica

Additional pages have been requested by:

None this year.

Further questions asked by:

Brenda - #163 #194
Elizabeth - #179
Krista - #81 #159
Monica - #57

Sunday, 24 May 2015

The Writer's Voice 2015 - Breakdown of entries

A very special thanks to coaches Brenda Drake, Mónica Bustamante Wagner, Elizabeth Briggs, and Krista Van Dolzer for hosting The Writer's Voice again this year. They're currently checking out the entries to see who they want on their teams in these not-quite-blind auditions.

My 2015 entry can be found here. *Cough* Pick me! *Cough*

There are 195 very talented authors all competing for a spot on one of the teams, and you can check out the links to our entries here.

I've been busy compiling details of the entries, collecting Twitter* handles, prompting people for missing details from their queries (genre, word count, etc), and subscribing to posts (apologies for my stock comments on your posts, btw, but it was the fastest way to subscribe), and I can now share some of the fruits of that labour with you.

Altogether, there were 22 MG, 6 Upper MG, 114 YA (I've included Upper YA in that), 10 NA, and 43 Adult entries.

You wanna further breakdown of categories? (You want to see what competition you're up against, right? ;o) ) Of course you do!

On the whole, I've gone with the descriptions you've given (but I might've made a few tweaks if I didn't think it was entirely correct).

ETA: I've updated the list to include the entry numbers against their categories. Let me know if I need to make any amendments.

Here you go:


MG Adventure x 1 (#120)

MG Arthurian Retelling x 1 (#165)

MG Contemporary x 6 (#11, #23, #32, #125, #127, #190)

MG Contemporary Fantasy x 1 (#48)

MG Fantasy x 7 (#18, #19, #69, #72, #91, #116, #134)

MG Fantasy Adventure x 1 (#61)

MG Ghost Story x 1 (#37)

MG Horror Comedy x 1 (#26)

MG Magical Realism x 2 (#149, #159)

MG Mystery Adventure x 1 (#160)

Upper MG

Upper MG Contemporary x 1 (#20)

Upper MG Fantasy x 2 (#75, #107)

Upper MG Fantasy Adventure x 1 (#148)

Upper MG Mystery x 1 (#79)

Upper MG Mystery Adventure x 1 (#47)


YA (genre not specified) x 2 (#46, #82)

YA Adventure/Romance x 1 (#140)

YA Comedic Horror x 1 (#74)

YA Contemporary x 23 (#5, #10, #21, #27, #35, #39, #41, #43, #49, #50, #56, #58, #70, #76, #78, #85, #90, #103, #128, #136, #151, #180, #185)

YA Contemporary Fantasy x 3 (#40, #135, #163)

YA Contemporary Romance with a Fantasy twist x 1 (#188)

YA Contemporary SF x 1 (#166)

YA Contemporary Thriller x 2 (#4, #87)

YA Dark Fantasy x 1 (#95)

YA Dark Paranormal x 1 (#110)

YA Dark Urban Fantasy x 1 (#156)

YA Fantasy x 24 (#2, #12, #14, #22, #25, #29, #31, #44, #55, #57, #66, #71, #73, #96, #99, #105, #113, #121, #137, #161, #170, #178, #191, #195)

YA Gothic Horror x 1 (#126)

YA Historical x 3 (#81, #145, #157)

YA Historical Fantasy x 3 (#7, #111, #162)

YA Historical SF x 1 (#141)

YA Horror x 3 (#64, #89, #168)

YA LGBT Contemporary x 1 (#164)

YA Literary Ghost Story x 1 (#123)

YA Low Fantasy x 1 (#42)

YA Magical Realism x 1 (#52)

YA Mystery x 3 (#8, #62, #67)

YA Near Future Thriller x 1 (#38)

YA Paranormal x 1 (#9)

YA Paranormal Fantasy x 1 (#174)

YA Paranormal Romance x 2 (#147, #193)

YA Post-Apocalyptic x 1 (#171)

YA Psychological Thriller x 1 (#114)

YA Realistic x 1 (#176)

YA Retelling x 1 (#54)

YA Romantic Thriller x 1 (#119)

YA SF x 13 (#60, #68, #83, #97, #98, #109, #112, #138, #144, #152, #167, #172, #101)

YA SF/Romance x 1 (#94)

YA Southern Gothic x 1 (#45)

YA Space Opera x 1 (#59)

YA Speculative x 1 (#3)

YA Steampunk Cinderella Retelling x 1 (#153)

YA Superhero Fantasy x 1 (#184)

YA Thriller x 2 (#65, #139)

YA Time Travel x 1 (#88)

YA Urban Fantasy x 3 (#17, #33, #53)


NA Contemporary x 2 (#118, #133)

NA Contemporary Fantasy x 1 (#183)

NA Contemporary Romance x 2 (#16, #106)

NA Paranormal Romantic Thriller x 1 (#132)

NA Romance x 2 (#30, #63)

NA Romantic Fantasy Adventure x 1 (#1)

NA SF x 1 (#15)


Adult Character-Driven Suburban Novel x 1 (#108)

Adult Contemporary Fantasy x 1 (#142)

Adult Contemporary Romance x 3 (#84, #100, #143)

Adult Cozy Mystery x 2 (#124, #155)

Adult Detective Mystery x 1 (#102)

Adult Epic Fantasy x 2 (#13, #115)

Adult Fantasy x 2 (#117, #131)

Adult Fantasy Detective/Fae Noir x 1 (#24)

Adult Genre Fiction x 1 (#122)

Adult High Fantasy x 1 (#104)

Adult Historical Fantasy x 1 (#80)

Adult Historical Romance x 1 (#182)

Adult Literary x 2 (#86, #169)

Adult Literary/Commercial x 1 (#6)

Adult Magical Realism x 1 (#189)

Adult Mainstream Fiction x 1 (#77)

Adult Psychological Thriller x 1 (#177)

Adult Redemption Tale x 1 (#92)

Adult Romance x 2 (#130, #173)

Adult Romantic Suspense x 3 (#129, #186, #187)

Adult Social SF x 1 (#34)

Adult Steampunk x 1 (#158)

Adult Thriller x 1 (#36)

Adult Thriller/Supernatural/Horror x 1 (#192)

Adult Upmarket Apocalyptic x 1 (#154)

Adult Upmarket Contemporary x 1 (#93)

Adult Urban Fantasy x 3 (#146, #150, #179)

Adult Women's Fiction x 4 (#51, #175, #181)

Adult Women's Literary x 1 (#28)

*Don't forget to hang out at #TheWVoice over on Twitter, where you can connect with other entrants and maybe see some teases from the coaches and their coaching team members.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Quest to be selected as a ‘The Writer’s Voice’ team member – 2015 edition

I’ve made it past the Rafflecopter stage of The Writer’s Voice – phew! Now I have to post my query and the first 250 words of my novel in the hope of getting selected by one of the coaches onto their team. The query is spoilerish, so look away now if you don’t want to be spoilered (yeah, of course that’s a proper word!).

Oh, and for everyone else who’s also been lucky enough to make it through (Congratulations, fellow writers!) I’ll be putting a brief comment on your blogs so I can keep track of comments (especially coaches' comments). When pages are requested, or entries selected, I’ll do my best to keep people informed on #TheWVoice on Twitter or in a separate post here on my blog (so you might want to follow me...).

Anyway, without further ado, here’s my entry:


With a flair for telling fakelore, island girl Fenella lies to conceal her people’s oasis of forbidden magic from outsiders. But the sixteen-year-old’s tales of dragons and krakens can’t prevent a royal visit. Prince Jarek intends to seek a wife from among the islanders. Or so he says.

In the lead-up to the visit, Fenella saves a young man on the beach after a shipwreck. He claims amnesia. She names him Drake and feigns interest to investigate further. Puckering up her lying lips, she kisses her way through his memory loss. He tells her he’s a magic-user on the run. Fenella can’t admit her own magical ability will awaken soon, not with the magic-hating royal family on their way to the island. If they discover her island’s secrets, she’ll swing from the harbour gallows along with every other magic-user there.

But it takes a liar to spot a liar--and Fenella’s not the only one being economical with the truth. That signet ring Drake hides on a chain around his neck? It’s a royal heirloom.

THE FAKELORE GIRL is an 81,000-word YA fantasy novel. Thank you for your consideration.

First 250 words:

Lying spread-eagled on an altar wasn’t an experience I cared to repeat in a hurry; the knife the priestess was sharpening mere inches away looked evil, for starters. And the smile on Cressey’s blood-red lips showed just how much she relished her task. Barbarian.

The evening tide ebbed from the open-air temple dedicated to the goddess Drina. Waves lapped against the two stone columns standing as a gateway to the sea and the krakens haunting its depths. A small mercy I wasn’t chained to those columns, awaiting my death one kraken mouthful at a time.

“Shouldn’t I be naked?” I wiggled my toes. The heels of my feet and the tips of my fingers touched the four corners of the granite slab. Grains of sand rubbed against my skin. “I really think I should be naked.”

“What, right now?” The knife stilled. “Fenella, nobody wants to see that.”

“No, not now. For my Awakening ceremony next month.” For just a few seconds I imagined the full moon casting its silvery light over my unclothed body on the altar, my generous curves a stark contrast against the hard edges of the stone. I took the image a step farther: a gilt-framed portrait of the scene on display in our castle for all to admire. With my hands and long hair covering the appropriate bits (and painted tastefully from the right angle), I wouldn’t be too exposed – just exposed enough for the painting to win pride of place in any exhibition.

Fenella's island

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Quest to find some Chocolate Fruits

And what, pray tell, are Chocolate Fruits? They're a boiled sweet with a chocolate centre (rather like Chocolate Limes, but with different flavours). Whenever I visited my grandparents as a child, they always had a supply for me and my brother and sisters. Sadly, my grandparents passed away many years ago, but whenever I've popped into a traditional sweet shop, I've always looked out for a jar of these sweets. 
Surprisingly, I still have some left
This particular quest is obviously very close to my heart (and my sweet tooth!), and I'm pleased to finally report success after many years of failure, thanks to Pennyworths of Truro.

Do you have a certain sweet or candy that brings back memories from your childhood?

Quest: Successful!

Saturday, 7 March 2015

World Book Day

World Book Day took place in the UK and Ireland on Thursday 5th March and is a celebration of authors, illustrators, books and reading. Schools are sent packs of Book Tokens and resources full of ideas and activities, and lots of pupils are encouraged to dress up as a favourite literary character for the day.

Just dress in ordinary clothes and you can claim you're Hermione, Harry or Ron!
I've seen pictures on Facebook of Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, the captain from Life of Pi, and the Mad Hatter. Apparently, one mum in Greater Manchester thought it would be funny to let her eleven-year-old son go to school dressed as Christian Grey from that book - the headmistress quite rightly asked him to change his costume.

The coolest pupils at a secondary school in Horsham, West Sussex coordinated their costumes and 512 of them dressed as Harry Potter to set a new world record of the most people dressed like Harry Potter in one place (the previous record was 250). I'll bet the muggles in the area couldn't believe their eyes when they saw all those Harry Potter lookalikes streaming into school!

Did you dress up for World Book Day?

Thursday, 5 February 2015

An interview with author Stephanie N. Pitman

Here's a first for my blog - an interview with an author! Today, it gives me great delight to introduce you to Stephanie N. Pitman, author of the YA contemporary novel, HONORABLE DISGRACE, which was officially released earlier this week. I met Stephanie via an online critique group a couple of years ago, and I've had the honour* and privilege of reading an earlier version of her novel.

*Yes, that's the British spelling - you don't know how much I've had to resist referring to your book as HONOURABLE DISGRACE, Stephanie!

Here's the blurb about Stephanie's book:

Angie Adams joins the powerlifting team her junior year, but she has more in mind than just toning up - like getting closer to her crush, football star Cory Jacob, who, as luck would have it, is assigned as her spotting partner. When Angie's feelings are unexpectedly returned, her life is suddenly filled with the giddy electricity of first love. But why, then, does Angie get a little flutter when her older and very hot boss, Brad, looks at her? 

Angie seems to have everything going her way, until her world is torn apart by her sister's betrayal which leads to a brutal rape. Heartbroken and reeling in the aftermath, Angie has to find an internal strength to rival her record-breaking power lifts if she ever wants to feel worthy of love again.

And here's an extract from the opening chapter:

The weight of the barbell pressed into my palms as I strained to lift it, the crosshatch pattern marking my skin. Sweat made it slick and hard to hold. You would think the sweat was due to the fact I was lifting weights, but that wasn’t the case. At least not entirely. The deep blue eyes of my longtime crush, the unbelievably handsome, not to mention funny, Cory Jacobs, looked down at me. His hands hovered below the bar, spotting my hundred pound load. This close I could see flecks of green surrounding his black irises, his golden skin smooth over his prominent cheekbones.

“Fantastic, Angie.” His smile set my already elevated heartbeat to an almost frantic pace. “You can lift quite a bit for a girl.”

I pressed my lips tightly together at the sexist comment, but my distaste eased at the touch of his fingers as he tweaked my bicep. When Coach Harrington had paired us up that morning, an inexperienced lifter, myself, with an experienced one, Cory, I’d almost squealed with barely contained delight. I still couldn’t believe my luck.

It was the first day of practice for the powerlifting team. One downside was the time of practice. Before school. It was that, or not have a team.

And here's the trailer:

Okay, on with the interview!

HONORABLE DISGRACE, although fictional, was based on an actual event in your life. How hard has it been for you to write the novel, Stephanie, and did you find the process cathartic?

Stephanie: Yes, it was very healing. Honorable Disgrace is the book I never planned on writing. About 5 years ago, I woke from a nightmare about my ordeal. I’d had it before, but it was more frequent and more vivid than before. I thought I’d put my experience behind me, but I had only buried it. It wasn’t hard to write it, but it was hard to think about other people reading it and harder still to allow others to read it. Before writing Honorable Disgrace, my husband and a few friends, were the only ones who knew I’d been raped. I hadn’t even told my sister what had happened, the one who had put me in the situation where I was raped. But now I can talk about it and my hope is that through my book and the sharing of my experience, I may be able to help some other girl to know they are still beautiful and deserving of all the good things life has to offer.

I hope you achieve that, too. If there is one piece of advice you could give a girl who finds herself in Angie’s situation, what would it be?

Stephanie: It would definitely be to talk to someone. Don’t keep it in. It’s not your fault and whether or not you want justice for what happened, you need to talk so you can heal.

That is so true. What do you hope readers will take away from this story?

Stephanie: Everyone has an inner strength that you’ll never know about unless you are tested. Did I want my test, my trial, to be this horrible? Of course not. But there are many other girls who have to endure it again and again and most often at the hand of a loved one. What I really want people to take away from this is terrible things happen to us all the time. The only control we have is how we choose to react to it. I have forgiven my sister for her part in my rape and I’ve also forgiven my attacker. To keep that anger and rage in my heart was a poison and the only way to truly recover is to forgive.

It can't have been easy to forgive - you are an amazing and inspiring woman, Stephanie.

Your main character, Angie Adams, joins the powerlifting team at school, which is something I haven’t encountered before in a YA novel. What research did you do to make these scenes authentic?

Stephanie: First, I was a weightlifter in high school. And I always wanted to be on the wrestling team, but my dad would have none of it. Powerlifting was not available as a high school sport when I attended.  So, Angie did a lot of the things I wished I had had the courage to do in high school. Like get the hot guy she’d been crushing on. And more importantly, fighting back and not remaining a victim.

Ah, I wondered whether you were writing from experience in those powerlifting scenes. Remind me not to get on your bad side!

Despite the dark subject matter, there are uplifting moments in HONORABLE DISGRACE. What’s one of your favourite lines or scenes in the novel?

Stephanie: Hmmm, good question. And tough to decide. I have to say when Cory takes Angie on their first official date. Cory has a lot of thoughtful surprises for Angie, which shows how much he does like her and perhaps how long he has liked her and when things get a little hot, a little too fast, he’s okay with Angie pulling back. And Angie actually falls asleep on him, too.

So sweet! There are many different stages to the writing process, from giving personalities to your characters or plotting the story, to finishing the first draft or incorporating beta feedback. What stage do you enjoy the most?

Stephanie: Well, I’d have to say my least favorite is the first draft. I can’t tell you how many times I sit there staring at that blank space waiting for inspiration to strike. My favorite stage in the process has got to be revisions. I love going back once I’ve got all the groundwork done, and smoothing all the rough edges, making sure the plot runs smooth, the characters are fleshed and the descriptions are real, but don’t take over the movement of the story. Revisions are definitely the icing on top of the cake.

I agree - I definitely prefer revising. Most writers have more than one story they’re itching to get on page. What are you currently working on?

Stephanie: Yes, I fall into that category of more than one story. I have too many. I have a YA trilogy I’ve been working on for a number of years, which draws on a lot of Mayan mythology, but it is set in current day Montana. But most recently I started another YA for NaNoWriMo - which I failed to finish by the deadline. It can be hard to work on something new when you’re trying to get a book ready for publication J. That one is called Love’s Lock and is based in Paris. There’s danger, intrigue, romance, of course, and reincarnation. But on the back burner I have enough ideas for another five or six books, ranging from Mid Grade to New Adult.

Ooh, la, la!  Paris, eh? LOVE'S LOCK sounds very promising (hurry up and finish so I can have a read! J).

Many people express the desire to write a novel, but get no further than that. What support or tips did you find helpful to finish the first draft of your manuscript?

Stephanie: I am continually astounded by authors who create their own worlds and have so many depths within them. JK Rowling for one. Amazing. I don’t think I will ever be in league with one of those authors. For me, it helped that it was something I knew. That was one part of it. But still I don’t think I would have finished it without the support and encouragement of my writing friends. I have some pretty awesome friends. So, if you are serious about writing, get supportive people around you, and not just family, but supportive like minded people. I joined the SCBWI 6 or so years ago and I know that was instrumental in where I am today. You meet authors in your area, agents and editors looking for what you have to give and getting your foot in the door with them. I cannot express enough how important being part of a group like the SCBWI is. But even with all of that, you have to set SMART goals.

Yes, we live so much in a vacuum when we're writing - it's important to connect with other writers for support.

Writers are encouraged to read, read, read – not just in their genre, but to explore new ones, too. What sort of books do you like to read for pleasure?

Stephanie: Oh, I read. Boy, do I read. But I am guilty of not branching out. I love my YA fantasy books. Julie Kagawa, Andrea Cremer, Brandon Mull, Stephenie Meyers, Veronica Roth, Cassandra Clare, to name a few. But I do try to incorporate new ones in there every now and then. I love Stephen King and Gerald Lund, which as authors go, they are on complete different sides of the spectrum. John Grisham is another favorite. My goodreads bookshelf shows my somewhat eclectic interests.

I enjoyed sneaking a peek at your goodreads bookshelf - I might have to check out some of those YA fantasy books for myself. J

Okay, final question.  If you could go on a fictional (or non-fictional) quest - this blog is entitled Quest Seekers, after all! - wherever or whenever you like, what would you like it to include?

Stephanie: This is a tough one. My life is such an adventure already. I love the quests where you never know where you’re going to end up. Brandon Mulls Fabelhaven and Beyonder series come to mind, along with any of Jennifer Fallons books. Any quest I go on would have to have magic and fairies and other fantastical beings. And of course there would have to be a super, hot love interest with plenty of muscle. J  (Me: That quest gets my vote!)

Thanks so much for this, Annette. It has been a pleasure being part of our online critique group which includes many places in the US and across the pond. I am grateful for your part in helping me get to where I am with my writing and so glad I’ve got to know you. Can’t wait for your turn.

It's been a pleasure to interview you, Stephanie! Good luck with the rest of your blog tour and with the book itself.  J

If you have any questions for Stephanie, put them in the comments section below and she'll stop by later to answer them for you.


Stephanie's: Facebook   Pinterest   Website

Follow Stephanie on Twitter: @stephpitman11

Stephanie N. Pitman has taught preschool for over 12 years and is a motivated entrepreneur, currently operating two successful businesses with her husband, Travis. She is a writer of fiction and nonfiction. Her first novel, a YA Contemporary, Honorable Disgrace, is based on her own story of overcoming the ugly side of life, betrayal and rape. She is a graduate of the Institute of Children's Literature and an active member of the SCBWI. Stephanie enjoys spending time with her husband of 16 years, and their two boys, visiting the beautiful splendor and diversity of their home state of Montana. Along with being an avid reader and dedicated writer, she enjoys pushing herself to her best by competing in triathlons, relay races, and half marathons along with being a Zumba and Yoga Instructor.


Sunday, 11 January 2015

How many books did I read in 2014?

I can safely say I thrashed last year's total of 105 books by a comfortable margin (it helped I was off work for six weeks recovering from an operation). I borrowed (& read) 94 books from LibrariesWest, read 37 of my own books and did six beta reads, giving the grand total of 137 books read in 2014. I also paid a visit to four more libraries for the first time, so I've now visited sixteen libraries in the LibrariesWest consortium over the last few years (seven of which I visited in one day in December!).

St George Library

I don't think I'll beat reading 137 books this year, but I'm already onto my seventh book of the year so never say never!

How about you? Did you get much reading done in 2014?