Q&A with author MJ Arlidge! @mjarlidge @angelaontour #graceland

Blog tour graphic sml

When I got an email asking me whether I wanted to be one of seven bloggers to interview Matt Arlidge about one of his books I jumped at the chance. Regular readers of my little blog will know how much I love Arlidge’s Helen Grace books and that he is one of my absolute favourite authors so you might be able to imagine just how excited I was. I was asked which book of his I wanted to ask Matt vabout and I didn’t have to think twice, Eeny Meeny was the first book in the series and my absolute favourite. I first read it in January 2015 after hearing some buzz about it, two and a half years later I can tell you a lot about it, not just the shocking storyline but also how I felt reading it. I very much doubt that there is another book that I read in 2015 that I could say the same about.

I’ve found two different blurbs for Eeny Meeny, one I found when I was trying to come up with my questions for Matt but the other seems to be more prevalent so I’ll put that one here, but the one that I read gave me question two, as that is a question asked in the blurb. I just love that Matt thought that it was an enjoyable unpleasant question! So, without further ado, here’s the blurb of Eeny Meeny followed by my Q&A with M.J. Arlidge.

Blurb:

The “dark, twisted, thought-provoking” (#1 New York Times bestseller Tami Hoag) international bestseller–first in the new series featuring Detective Helen Grace.

Two people are abducted, imprisoned, and left with a gun. As hunger and thirst set in, only one walks away alive.

It’s a game more twisted than any Detective Helen Grace has ever seen. If she hadn’t spoken with the shattered survivors herself, she almost wouldn’t believe them.

Helen is familiar with the dark sides of human nature, including her own, but this case–with its seemingly random victims–has her baffled. But as more people go missing, nothing will be more terrifying than when it all starts making sense….

Q&A:

Hi Matt! Thanks so much for joining me on If Only I Could Read Faster. Regular readers of my blog will know how much I love your Helen Grace series and how excited I am to have you stopping by.

  1. The premise for Eeny Meeny was shocking, how did you come up with the storyline and did you find it difficult to write about the characters in such an awful situation?

I was interested in writing a story about competition culture. When I came up with Eeny Meeny, reality shows were in their pomp. Big Brother, I’m a Celebrity and other shows were actively encouraging us to judge other people – who do we like more, who’s hottest – and then discard those found wanting. I thought it would be interesting if a serial killer did something similar, raising the stakes so it became a case of life and death. The point was to ask questions about how we value people. If a woman was imprisoned with a man, the gun lying between them, should the man be chivalrous and let the woman live? Likewise, if a mother was imprisoned with a woman who doesn’t have kids, should the latter spare the former, because her life is somehow worth more? It’s knotty, moral territory and something I was keen to explore. I was also interested in serial killer’s calling cards – this is a trope in fiction and in real life – and I wanted to play with this notion. Wouldn’t it be interesting, I thought, if in Eeny Meeny the calling cards were not a glove or a printed letter or what have you, but rather living breathing beings. I loved this idea, so in my debut novel the survivors – tortured by guilt and the knowledge of what they’ve done to survive – are effectively the killer’s calling cards.

  1. Would you rather lose your life or lose your mind?

What an enjoyably unpleasant question. And not an easy one to answer. I’d like to be dramatic and say my life, but I suspect I’d plump for the latter, in the fond hope that I would one day recover my senses. In terms of the Eeny Meeny dilemma, I’ve always suspected I would kill, rather than be killed.

  1. Do you have any regrets of how you have treated any of your characters? Anything that would change if you could?

Absolutely not! Not because everything I write is great – far from it! – but because I never flinch from making tough decisions. There have been times during the writing of the novels, when editors etc have said “Are you sure you want to kill that character? People really like them.”, but I have generally ignored them, favouring the honest, logical conclusion of a story, rather than a fudged decision made for the wrong reasons. Everyone gets rocks thrown at them in my stories – I treat everyone equally!

  1. I have heard that Eeny Meeny is being made into a tv series. As you used to write screenplays why have you decided not to be involved with adapting your own book?

For the simple reason that I’d already told the story once and wasn’t keen to rehash it in a screenplay. I was – and remain – far more interested in moving Helen’s story forward, than in going over familiar ground.

  1. Why did you decide to have a female lead detective? How did you find it as a man writing a woman’s character?

Three reasons. First, because I think women are more interesting than men both in life and fiction. Men are predictable and relatively simple in their desires, women are much more complex and nuanced – and thus more interesting to write. Second, because life is harder for women, which is good in terms of creating an interesting protagonist – you want to be able to throw as many rocks as possible at your main characters. And lastly, because it just feels like the hour of the woman in crime fighting fiction. All the interesting crime fighters of recent years – Lisbeth Salander, Sarah Lund, Saga Noren – have been female. How do I find writing them? No different from writing male characters really – I just imagine what might be going through their head and off I go…

  1. Helen has an interesting way of dealing with the stress of her job, can you tell me a bit more about why that became part of the story?

I guess we’re talking about the S&M element! Well, I wanted to avoid a lot of the cliches of the genre – hard drinking male cop with marital problems etc etc. So I created a female copper who was tea total and allergic to relationships. However, everybody needs a pressure release, Helen more than most given her traumatic back story, so I opted for pain. Whenever Helen feels the dark clouds descending she heads to her dominator and manages her feelings through the controlled use of pain. I wanted to make Helen different and I thought that it would be interesting if the person she had the closest personal relationship with was the man she paid to beat her.

  1. You pitched seven Helen Grace books to penguin, who thankfully got very excited. Have all the books you pitched stayed as you set out or did you make changes as you wrote them? How many more Helen Grace books do you have planned?

Some of them made it into print, but several fell by the wayside as I came up with better ideas! My point in pitching the seven books was not to faithfully follow those ideas, but more to show that both Helen and the series had legs. There are many more Helen Grace books planned – as long as people keep buying them, I’ll keep writing them!

  1. Do you have any strange writing quirks?

Not really, I’m quite boring. If I have a quirk, it’s my tendency to wave a wand around when searching for inspiration. My kids gave me a replica of Voldemort’s wand for my birthday and occasionally I find a touch of Slytherin aids the writing process.

  1. Can you tell us one thing about Eeny Meeny that we, your readers, won’t know?

It was originally called “Nemesis” – a truly terrible title. I have my agent to thank for coming up with a better one.

Quickfire questions:

Favourite music while you write?

Classical music, especially choral religious music. Very sinister.

Favourite snack while you write?

Wasabi peas or jelly babies. It’s a mood thing…

Favourite place to write?

Anywhere where I can people watch.

Strangest feedback or review comment?

Someone once gave a copy of Eeny Meeny to a friend who he feared was trying to starve himself to death, in order to try and jolt him out of it. I wasn’t convinced of the wisdom of this and was slightly freaked out by it.

Book you’ve read that you wish you wrote?

The Silence of the Lambs. I think it’s a near perfect crime novel.

 

Well, I hope that you enjoyed that! If you haven’t read any Helen Grace books then why not??!! Definitely start with Eeny Meeny and then Pop Goes The Weasel. I’ve reviewed the rest of the books from the series on here, The Doll’s HouseLiar LiarLittle Boy Blue, No Way Back, Hide and Seek,  and Love Me Not. You can buy all of the Helen Grace books on M.J. Arlidge’s Amazon UK and Amazon US author page.

 

Q&A: Author Karen King @karen_king @AccentPress

 

Perfect Summer final

Perfect Summer by Karen King

To celebrate the release of Karen King’s latest book, Perfect Summer, she has joined me to answer some questions about herself and her writing. If you think that you haven’t read anything by Karen King then it is quite possible that you are wrong. Did you read Jackie magazine when you were younger? Perhaps you’ve read one of Karen’s 100+ children’s book to your child at bedtime? Or maybe one of her young adult books? Karen King has been making a living by writing for many years, so the chances are that you have read something by her. But if you haven’t then you can read this Q&A and decide which of her many books you might want to start with.

 

Hi Karen, thanks so much for joining us.

Thank you for inviting me over, Rebecca.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, please? How did you get into writing?

I’ve been a published author for over thirty years. I started my writing career with the teenage magazine, Jackie and spent many years writing for various children’s magazines such as Thomas the Tank Engine and Winnie the Pooh before concentrating solely on writing books.

You have written many, many children’s books. How does writing for children differ to writing a book for adults? 

Yes, I have, my last count was 120 children’s books. Whoever you write for, whether it’s children or adults, you need a credible, engaging character and a strong story plot so you start off from the same place but children’s books are shorter so the pace is quicker. When you’re writing for younger children you have to be aware of their restricted vocabulary and of the publisher’s limited word count. For children over 9 this is more flexible but even then the story tends to be fast-moving, with action and dialogue superseding description. When I write for adults I find that writing description is the most difficult to do, describing the beach my characters are sitting on, for example, instead of simply saying ‘they sat down on the soft sand’ – probably a result of writing for children’s magazines for so long, when the word count was so restricted there was no room for any description at all.

Can you tell us something that we, your readers, don’t know about you?

Gosh, there’s lots you don’t know about me. Let me think. Well, I can’t ride a bike. I tried when I was younger but I just couldn’t balance, or stop the perishing thing. After ending upside down in a litter bin I decided to give up trying!

Do you have any quirky writing habits? 

I don’t think so. I don’t have to use special notepaper or a certain pen, for example. I’ll write on anything, till receipts, shopping lists, the margins of magazines. I do like to buy pretty notebooks and pens though, but then I don’t like to use them.

 If you weren’t an author what would you be? 

A teacher. I really admire the work teachers do, it’s such an important job. I was all set to start training to be a teacher when I was offered regular writing work on children’s comics. As I had four young children I opted to write instead so I could work from home. Now I often visit schools to talk to children about writing, and my work, as an author which is great.

Do you have a favourite book that you have written and if so why that one?

 Sapphire Blue. It’s my second YA and is about two teenagers, Sapphire and Will, who really love each other and promise to be together forever. Unfortunately, they both die in a car crash and are separated in the after-life. They’re determined to find each other though, and go through all sorts of danger to do that. The theme is ‘can love survive death’ and one reviewer from Ind’tales magazine called it ‘the best YA out there right now’. It’s the story that’s closest to my heart because I believe we carry on after we die, and that we’ll see our loved ones again.

Having written so many children’s books why did you decide to write adult romance?

I like writing romance stories. Back in the early days of my writing career I wrote romance for teens; photo stories and short stories for Jackie, Patches and Loving magazines. I’ve always been interested in writing a romance novel but was too busy earning a living writing children’s books for the first twenty years of my writing career. A romance novel is at least 50,000 words – my chick lit ‘I do?…or do I?’ is 75,000 – that’s a big commitment and as a full time writer I couldn’t spare that time until my family was grown-up.

 

Can you tell us about your new book, Perfect Summer and why we should read it? 

Don’t be fooled by the title as this is rather a gritty book.  It’s set about thirty years in the future when society is so totally obsessed by perfection that plastic surgery (now called body enhancement) is the norm and anyone who is slightly different, or disabled in any way is looked down upon. Morgan, the heroine, has a friend called Summer who is beautiful, rich, has cool parents and a seemingly perfect life whereas Morgan isn’t so beautiful or rich and her little brother Josh has Down’s syndrome.  Morgan and her family get a lot of hassle from the Ministry who want them to put Josh in a Residential Learning Centre, where most disabled children are sent, but Morgan’s family refuse. Then one day Josh goes missing and the authorities aren’t interested so Morgan and Sumer decide to investigate. They, along with another teenager called Jamie whose little sister, Holly, has gone missing too, uncover a sinister plot involving the kidnapping of disabled children and find themselves in danger. Can they find Josh and Holly before it’s too late? Expect a few shocks and to shed a tear or two.

I got the idea for this story when I read an article about girls as young as four and five being worried that they were too fat or too ugly. That’s really sad. I started to think how far this obsession with perfection would go, would it get so bad that people who didn’t have perfect looks would be shunned from society? And how would disabled people be treated? I hope people will read it and start to question whether people should be judged by their looks and that girls, in particular, will stop worrying about having perfect looks. The dedication inside the book says ‘For everyonewho thinks they aren’t beautiful, thin, clever or good enough. Celebrate your uniqueness. There is only one you.’ That’s the message I want to get across.

And finally, where can readers find out more about your books and connect with you on social media?

Website: http://www.karenking.net/

Twitter: @karen_king

Karen King Romance Author Facebook Page

Karen King Young Adult Books

Pinterest: https://uk.pinterest.com/karenkingauthor/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/karenkingauthor/?hl=en

Thanks for inviting me over to your blog, Rebecca.

About the author:

KK Head and Shoulders

I’ve had over one hundred and twenty children’s books published. I’ve written for many children’s magazines too including Sindy, Barbie, Winnie the Pooh and Thomas the Tank Engine. Some of my short stories were featured on Playdays BBC and some of my poems on the BBC One Potato, Two Potato website. I write for all ages and in all genres. YA, story books, picture books, plays, joke books, I’ve written them all.

I also write contemporary romance and have recently signed a 3 book contract with Accent Press. My first book I DO – or DO I? was released in May. Accent Press have also re-released my romances ‘The Millionaire Plan’ and ‘Never Say Forever’ with brand new covers. Book 2 is in the process of publication and I’m now working on Book 3.

Perfect Summer by Karen King is out now and available from Amazon UK, you can also find Karen’s extensive library on Karen’s Amazon author page.

 

 

Review & Q&A: Differently Normal by Tammy Robinson @TammyRobinson76

 

 

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Differently Normal by Tammy Robinson.

 

My Review:

If you have yet to read any books by Tammy Robinson then you really are missing out. Tammy writes incredibly emotive stories, with great characters that you can’t help but care about.

Differently Normal tells the story of Maddy, a teenager living with her mum and her sister Bee. Bee has autism and requires 24/7 care and it’s down to Maddy and her mum to provide it. For Maddy, juggling working and caring for her much loved sister leaves her little time for much else, she has been forced to grow up too quickly, but she’s happy with her life and knows that Bee needs her.

And then she meets Albert. Albert is instantly attracted to Maddy, and gradually she comes to realise that there’s something very special about Albert and that he respects her responsibilities at home.

I don’t want to give too much away but I just loved reading about Maddy and Albert, it was a heartwarming story that at times was incredibly sad, yet it also managed to make me laugh out loud a number of times.

Tammy Robinson has excelled herself with this book, her portrayal of Bee is just wonderful, the book shows the reader how difficult it can be to love and care for a child with autism, but also how wonderful and rewarding it can be. Bee such a lovely character who brought real love and humour to the story.

I don’t do spoilers in my reviews but I will say that the ending of Different Normal was not what I had been expecting, the author skillfully handled the events in the book and I have to say, it took my heart some time to recover. I suggest that you don’t read the end of this book in public!

An easy 5* read for me, and one that will appeal to a wide range of readers, both young and old.

Q&A with Tammy Robinson.

1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hi Rebecca, thank you for this opportunity. I live in Rotorua, New Zealand and I write contemporary books. I just turned 40 (eek!) and I have three children under the age of five, so I’m pretty tired right now! I’m currently a stay at home mum, but in the past I’ve done everything from sell shoes, to work on cruise ships, to HR manager on a tropical island resort.

2. What would your English teacher say if she knew that you were an author now? 

Honestly? I can’t even remember my English teacher! But I can remember my Journalism teacher, and she’d be super proud. An eccentric woman, she’d bring her puppy into class with her and my best friend Brian and I would take it outside to do it’s ‘business’ and spend our lessons lying on the grass in the sun talking about life. But I’d hazard a guess and say any English teacher I ever had wouldn’t be too surprised, given that I’ve always known I’d be an author one day.

3. Can you tell us something that we, your readers, don’t know about you?

I am a twin. I have a sister, Kerrie, who is six minutes younger than I am. We’re not identical, but when we were little our mother dressed us the same and people thought we were.

Also I had depression from the age of seventeen and battled with it for many years. I went through some very dark times. After a stint in a psychiatric hospital I was treated with ECT (Electric Convulsive therapy) and I have been symptom free for the past decade. With my history, I was worried about developing Post natal depression, but thankfully, apart from the usual parent struggles, that has not been the case.

4. You have a young family, how do you juggle writing and parenting?

At the moment it’s tough. My children are so young they require my attention most of the time, especially Leo who is only eight months and still breastfed. I used to get very frustrated that I couldn’t write during the day, but then I realised I was being a half arsed mother because I was stewing on those feelings of frustration instead of giving them my full attention. I had to let it go and just remind myself that I would get ten or twenty minutes that night between dinner and the bed time routine, and that would be ‘my time’. Fortunately I have a very understanding husband, who takes on the childcare duties most weekends so I can get some serious writing done then.

5. You have a real skill at describing scenery in your books, making it so real that the reader can really picture the settings. And as they’re set in New Zealand you certainly have a lot of stunning scenery to describe. Have you always been really aware of your surroundings or is this something that you have learnt for focus on for your books?

Good question! I wasn’t really aware of doing it until I thought about your question, but yes, I do tend to focus on my surroundings and absorb them. I love nature, especially the ocean (which is why it features in most of my books). When I am writing a scene I picture it in my head and then set about describing that so the reader can see what I’m seeing. I have learnt which details to focus on and which ones to let go. There can be too much description in some books, so I try and only describe what’s necessary.

6. You recently changed the name and covers for some of your books, can you tell us a little bit about why you did that and what impact it has had on your sales?

When I first started writing (and naming my books) I wasn’t really thinking about what worked best commercially. With A Roast on Sunday (now titled The Peculiar Smell of Secrets) I decided the title wasn’t appealing enough, and gave no hints as to the genre. I like to think the new title is more intriguing.

With Pohutukawa Highway (now titled MY SUMMER OF YOU) I asked for feedback and found out that a lot of people were turned off from buying the book because they were unable to pronounce the title. Pohutukawa is a tree native to New Zealand. At Christmas time is comes out in big red bristle flowers, and is known as New Zealand’s native Christmas tree. As sad as I was about doing it, I decided to change the title to something that hopefully would also appeal to more international readers.

7. What tip would you give to someone writing their first book? 

When you sit down and open up your document, DON’T read back over what you’ve already written. You’ll get sucked into editing and changing sentences and won’t get any new writing done. Just scroll straight to the end and keep writing. The time for editing is when the book is finished. Trust me, you’ll get it written a lot faster if you just write it all down first and go back over it later.

8. If you were stuck on a desert island and had three people with you who would you choose? You can have:
a. a character from one of your books

Ooh I’m torn between Charlie (Charlie and Pearl) because he’s such a lovable sweetheart and Hunter (My Summer of You) because he’s more mysterious and sexy.

b. a character from a book that you haven’t written

Erma Bombeck. Not so much a character as a real person, but someone who I think would be handy to have around!

c. someone famous who you don’t know in person or on social media.

I’d need someone who would make me laugh daily, so I’m going to say Sean Condon.
9. You can also take one book to take with you
Benny and Shrimp by Katarina Mazaretti.

And finally
10. Do you have any strange or quirky writing habits?
I’d love to say yes but no, I’m fairly boring in that regard. I am evolving as a writer. When I first started writing I would write with no idea where the story was going or how it would end. Now I like to plan in advance, it’s much easier (and faster) to write that way. I am also starting to challenge myself more and more with subject matter, dealing with subjects that require research.

(I apologise for the formatting of the questions in that, I’ve no idea what WordPress was doing and despite repeatedly copying and pasting and changing I could not get all the questions to be in the same font size!)

About The Author:

tammyrobinson

Tammy Robinson is writer from New Zealand. She has four books available for purchase on amazon and is currently at work on her fifth.

After years spent working her way round the world on cruise ships and at Club Med resorts (and yes, the rumours are all true) Tammy now lives in the beautiful Bay of Plenty with her husband, their two beautiful girls, a scatty black Labrador and a grumpy black cat who occasionally requires a two week course of anti-anxiety medication to stop him from pulling his own fur out. Seriously.

When not being drooled/vomited/pooped on, Tammy manages to squeeze in some writing, assisted by copious amounts of coffee and chocolate. (Ok and the odd wine)

Find Tammy on Facebook here and Twitter here and more about her and her books here.

Differently Normal by Tammy Robinson is out now and available from Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Blog Tour: Q&A & Giveaway for Isolation Junction by Jennifer Gilmour.

Q&A with Jennifer Gilmour, author of Isolation Junction: Breaking Free from the Isolation of Emotional Abuse.

• When you first decided to get your ideas out of your head and onto paper?

I was on an awareness course about Domestic Abuse. Alongside me were about 8 other women who had been in abusive relationships. As the day progressed, I found that I simply couldn’t believe that some of what the other women were saying was exactly what I had gone through but just in a different format. Domestic Abuse tends to go in a cycle (see photo below) and whichever way it begins, the behaviour spirals again and again. At first it could be months between incidents but for me, as time went on there were many instances within one day. It is quite normal to try to prevent the cycle from starting again by changing your behaviour as much as possible. By the end of the course I had come to understand that we were all subjected to the same behaviour and that no one knew before that this could even happen to someone i.e. that a relationship can be so unhealthy and soul destroying. I realised that others simply needed to know more about this unacceptable behaviour; they needed to see the warning signs before the relationship goes further or the behaviour gets even more serious.  On the other hand I needed others to see the behaviour for what it is. If people are in a relationship and the behaviour within it is not acceptable and is not their fault, it can’t simply be changed by changing yourself.

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  • How long did that first manuscript take to perfect?

I spent 18 months writing and collating my own personal notes. Most of the time was spent on getting the two tenses correct within the 2 narratives. Then I kept rereading the script as it was important that it flowed and that the message was clear and wasn’t confused.

  • How did you get it in front of publishers?

I am yet to approach publishers as I am self published.  I decided to self publish because I wanted to start to get the message out there. I have had interest but it is finding the right publishers for the novel and more specifically to find a publisher where my work fits into their portfolio as it is fiction.  The novel does include sensitive material which could be emotional for some people.  I have, however, woven through the romance and some comedic moments in the book to try and make it a more entertaining read despite its serious message.

  • What was the first reaction of people?

Those who had no idea what emotional abuse looks like felt an understanding and many have remarked that they can now see the kind of behaviour that is not acceptable. Some took it a step further after reading the book by researching further to learn more about domestic abuse.  Lots of people simply asked how the abusers get away with the behaviour.  Writing and publishing this book is a huge success for me because it means I am educating people (who might not read a text book) about this insidious behaviour.

Survivors who have read my book have supported it wholeheartedly and can relate to the book. Some found it hard to read the book as it had echoes of their own experiences but expressed pleasure at having read it and gained emotional support from it. I have had a lot of conversations following on from this and it almost feels like the taboo has lifted in the sense that people have spoken about their experience with me and have gladly shared posts from my page. This was also hugely important to me because I feel I am speaking as an advocate on behalf of both survivors and victims.

  • What input did you have on the cover? Font? Etc. …

As a self published author I got to choose the cover. I actually had a vision and my designer really did a fantastic job in captured my vision of what I wanted.  A lot of people have said how eye catching the cover is and that it enticed them to learn more.

  • If you could do it all again, what would you change?

I wouldn’t give myself such tight deadlines although I felt I needed them at the time to focus myself. If I had had the time I would have got beta readers to read and give feedback so I could have done a bit more tweaking, but that’s just me as a perfectionist.

Enter to win! Winners will be chosen at random by the Rafflecopter generator on Monday 20th February. One prize of a signed paperback and one prize of an Ebook version of Isolation Junction.

 Winners will be contacted by email by Emma Mitchell and will have three days to respond, if you don’t respond by 8 p.m. on Wednesday 22nd then a new winner will be selected.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Blurb:

Rose is the mother of two young children, and finds herself living a robotic life with an abusive and controlling husband. While she struggles to maintain a calm front for the sake of her children, inside Rose is dying and trapped in ‘Isolation Junction’.

She runs an online business from home, because Darren won’t let her work outside the house. Through this, she meets other mums and finds courage to attend networking events, while Darren is at work, to promote her business.

It’s at one of these events that Rose meets Tim, a sympathetic, dark-haired stranger who unwittingly becomes an important part of her survival.

After years of emotional abuse, of doubting her future and losing all self-confidence, Rose takes a stand. Finding herself distraught, alone and helpless, Rose wonders how she’ll ever escape with her sanity and her children. With 100 reasons to leave and 1,000 reasons she can’t, will she be able to do it?

Will Tim help her? Will Rose find peace and the happiness she deserves? Can Rose break free from this spiralling life she so desperately wants to change?

About the author:

jennifer-gilmour

Born in the North East, I am a young, married mum with three children. I am an entrepreneur, running a family business from my home-base and I have a large readership of other young mums in business for my blog posts.

From an early age I have had a passion for writing and have been gathering ideas and plot lines from my teenage years. A passionate advocate for women in abusive relationships, I have amalgamated and fictionalised other survivors experiences alongside my own to write my first novel detailing the journey of a young woman from the despair of an emotionally abusive and unhappy marriage to develop the confidence to challenge and change her life and to love again. I hope that in reading my debut novel, I will raise awareness of this often hidden and unseen behaviour and empower women in abusive relationships to seek help for themselves and find the confidence to change their lives.

 

Isolation Junction by Jennifer Gilmour is out now and available from Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Q&A and Review: Sarah Rayner, author of Making Friends with Depression.

So, today we have something a little bit different on If only I could read faster. It isn’t often that I review a non-fiction book, but I have always supported Sarah Rayner’s non-fiction books and so when she released a new one I wanted to help her let more people know about her books.

I sort of feel like this is a bit of a ‘coming out’ post for me, I am not someone who is open about their mental health struggles, I’ve always been a private person and I guess aware of the stigma around mental health. But I do think that that stigma is not the same as it used to be, I certainly hope not anyway, and I don’t think that keeping mental health struggles quiet is helpful to the person who has the struggles, or those that are close to them. So I have been thinking for a while that it would be good to be more open about my experiences, I was just unsure how to go about that.

So reviewing Making Friends with Depression and doing a Q&A with Sarah Rayner is my way of ‘coming out’ about my own mental health struggles. I have been a member of the Facebook group, Making Friends with Anxiety (now Making Friends with Anxiety and Depression), for a couple of years now, and although not a very active member the group has at times been very helpful, although for me anxiety is not my main struggle. My battle is with depression, severe and debilitating depression. It is something that I struggle with in some way or other pretty much every single day, although thankfully with the right support and treatment I am able to function in the sometimes scary world.

making-friends-series-with-new-cover

Making Friends with range by Sarah Rayner.

My 4* review: 

Having read Sarah Rayner’s previous non-fiction books focusing on anxiety I was keen to read her latest book about depression. Rayner has a great way of talking to her audience, it really does feel like you are chatting with her in person when you read. Her style is light and certainly not preachy.

The book is broken down into chapters that spell the word Depression. So chapter one talks about diagnosis, where the book talks about what depression is and the various symptoms, two about expert support including guidance on talking to your doctor and medication and so on.

This means that reading the book is broken down into simple, easy to read topics. In this book Sarah is also joined by another author who has struggled with depression, helping to give different viewpoints and experiences, and by a GP who gives his professional experience too. Although Rayner is the main narrator the book does benefit from the other contributors.

Perhaps the most important contribution comes from people who struggle with depression. In researching this book Rayner carried out a number of online questionnaires in order to get as a wide an experience as possible as no one with depression has the same experience as another. There are regular quotes in the book from these responses (including one from me) and I found these to be helpful and I think would definitely help someone in the middle of a depressive episode to feel less alone.

One of the chapters does focus on crisis care, where they advise on what to do and where to get help in an emergency situation, but the rest of the book is aimed at people who are struggling with depression but not, in my experience, a severe episode.

I know from my own experience that if I was at a really low point then this book would be of very limited help to me, but if I was at the start of a depression and if you like, caught it early enough, then this book would be a great help and reminder of things that I can do to help get myself out of it before I go too far.

I think that this book would be particularly useful for someone who is new to depression, and perfect for someone who is just starting to accept that they have depression as this book will educate them in a non-judgemental, easy to follow way. It would also be very helpful for a friend or family member of someone with depression.

This is a light and easy to read book, and I’ve no doubt that many will gain a lot from reading it. I do feel that if someone is struggling with severe depression then this book would have limited use.

The final thing to note about this book are the many wonderful illustrations. Rayner, it turns out, is something of an artist and she has drawn lots of pictures for the book. Although in Kindle format these illustrations are often not fully legible, especially small writing, which is unfortunate, although I believe this is only the case with e-readers and not if you use a kindle app on tablet or phone. I think that this is one book that would be better to read in hard copy so that you can make notes, perhaps highlight parts, and enjoy the illustrations.

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Sarah Rayner.

Q&A with Sarah Rayner:

  1. You started off writing fiction. What made you change to writing non-fiction books?

I didn’t deliberately set out to change from one to the other – in fact I’ve always written non-fiction, just not in book form, as for twenty years my ‘day job’ was advertising copywriting. So you may have read my work in magazines or on the tube, but not been aware I was the author! Some people might say that advertising is a form of fiction, but I found that composing letters, brochures and advertorials good training when it came to writing my non-fiction titles, as I learned how to sift through information and pare it down so I could write about complex subjects in an accessible way.

Then, when I was launching my novel Another Night, Another Day, which focuses on three people who meet in a psychiatric clinic, I was invited to write a series of blogs for Moodscope, a website which allows you to track your moods on a daily basis. I decided to focus on panic and worry as I’d personal experience of anxiety, and each day for a week explored a different area related to subject, starting with ‘A’ for ‘Adrenaline’ and finishing with ‘Y’ for ‘You’, so that after seven days I’d spelt out the word ANXIETY. I researched each subject carefully – not least as I stood to benefit myself! – and had the content checked by a GP to make sure the advice I gave was responsible. The reaction to those blogs was so heartfelt – it seemed there were a lot of people out there who were as desperate as I had been – that it led me to believe there was an opportunity to offer anxiety sufferers something more permanent that they could turn to whenever the need arose. So I set my hand to penning Making Friends with Anxiety, a little self-help book where I drew upon my own experiences and learnings in order to help others help themselves. Because I’d experience of marketing, I decided to publish the book myself, curious to see what ‘independent publishing’ was really like, and discover I could make it work financially and aesthetically as well as reaching out to a new readership.

2. Have you always been open about your mental health struggles or did you make a conscious decision to tell people about it when you wrote Making Friends with Anxiety?

My father, Eric Rayner, was a psychoanalyst, so an interest in mental health is in my blood. He recently passed away but his intellectual influence on me was always strong, and I remember asking him to direct me to books on people with multiple personality disorder when I was 17 as there was a song by Siouxsie and the Banshees – remember them? – called Christine, which focused on a woman with the condition. However it took several decades before I was ready to write about mental illness myself – maybe because he was so erudite! So whilst I touched on it in my other novels, it wasn’t until my fifth book, Another Night, Another Day, that I made it the focus of the story. When launching Another Night, Another Day it seemed relevant – and important in terms of overcoming stigma – to speak of my own experiences – and since then I’ve been much more open. I would encourage others to talk if they feel up to it, too, as whilst I still have dark days, I believe bottling up emotions or trying to cope on our own often makes us feel much worse.

3. You began with Making Friends with Anxiety, followed by colouring and craft books, and a book on the menopause. Why did you decide to focus on anxiety and the menopause before writing your latest book on depression?

Depression is arguably the obvious successor to a book on anxiety as both are frequently diagnosed together, but my anxiety had escalated enormously in the run up to the menopause, and I became interested in the link between hormonal changes and panic so for me the subject of menopause was the natural follow-up. I was also wary about dealing with the sensitive subject of depression on my own; using my experiences as the sole basis for extrapolating advice aimed at a wide audience, many of whom would be in a highly distressed state, seemed unwise and potentially dangerous. But when my fellow author Kate Harrison and doctor friend Patrick Fitzgerald expressed an interest in collaborating, I became inspired by the prospect of what we might do together. And when the team of wonderful volunteers who help run the ‘Making Friends with Anxiety’ group on Facebook offered to expand the group to include sufferers of depression too, I finally felt we had a ‘net’ so to speak, capable of supporting people in a way that I could never offer alone. Once I had sorted those elements, I felt able to embark on the project and I’m thrilled with how the book has turned out.

4. You asked people to fill in online questionnaires when you were researching Making Friends with Depression, did you learn anything surprising from doing that? 

The survey was Kate’s suggestion: she uses a similar technique to help research her 5:2 diet books. I was astonished by the huge number of responses we got, and the honesty of the replies. I think perhaps because they could remain anonymous, people felt more able to express themselves. We asked all sorts of questions (readers can see the survey here, and it helped us understand not only how differently individuals experience depression, but also the commonalities. I was interested to learn how many people had had some form of therapy through the NHS – that’s a big and positive change and one that has happened in the last five years. What is less good is that a great number of respondents felt the therapy had stopped too soon. It’s my hope that our book will enable those who feel bereft of support either begin or continue to help themselves – because recovery is possible.

5. Why did you decide to start the Making Friends with Anxiety Facebook page?

One important distinction is that it’s a group not a page, which means that members have to ask to join. This means they can discuss their issues with others in confidence, and I know from my own experience of being in groups that talking to others with similar experiences can go a long way towards helping us feel more connected to others and confident. To explain the benefits more fully, I asked the members. Here are a few responses:

Making Friends with Anxiety means I’m not alone anymore, like-minded people are always available on my mobile. People that I now consider friends.”

🙂It’s somewhere I can be myself, where I’m understood, nobody will judge me or call me a nutter or tell me I’m being stupid. People are so warm and caring – it’s like a big fluffy comfort blanket!”

This group makes me feel not so insular. Never have I spoken completely honestly about my anxiety or what it has caused me to do or feel. I have a voice, I am not alone and everyone on this site is so supportive and kind which is exactly what you need when you feel low. It is like a little supportive family when you don’t have your own to turn to.”

6. You have drawn a lot of drawings for Making Friends with Depression, and you’ve released two books on creativity and mental illness. How do you think that being creative helps your mental health?  

I’ve noticed that when my brain is tired of writing that I still have energy to draw; this may be because they involve different neural pathways. In any case, I feel we can often say a lot more with a drawing than with words, and illustrations were a way of ‘lightening up’ the book without being flip. I found myself smiling as I drew, feeling empathy for the characters I was creating. So there are two examples of how being creative helps lift my spirits, and others who suffer with anxiety or depression have said similar. Kate writes about cooking in the book for instance, and how it enables her to combine self-care and creativity. Patrick is a musician as well as a GP – my guess is that it helps him unwind from listening to patients’ problems to thrash about on a guitar!

7. You’ve become a champion with all the work that you do around mental health; writing books, an active role on the Facebook page and your regular feature in Psychology Today.

Yes! Here’s a link:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/worry-and-panic/201412/simple-tips-managing-anxiety-in-the-run-christmas

8. Was this something that you wanted to do when you set out to write Making Friends with Anxiety? 

When my father was a young man, he was a naval officer and he visited Japan in the aftermath of Hiroshima. He was horrified by what he saw there, and it was this experience that led him to work in mental health – he wanted to understand why people could be so destructive, when he believed that basically humans are social and good. He spent over 50 years campaigning for better mental healthcare. My motivations are not the same, but I do appreciate where he was coming from in trying to build bridges between people. I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all ‘cure’ for depression or anxiety or grief, but I do I believe understanding ourselves can give us greater freedom from mental illness, and the support of others can help us through dark times.

9. Do you have plans to write more books on mental health or will you return to fiction? 

Hopefully both! I’ve just relaunched my first novel, The Other Half, as an ebook with illustrations – it’s probably the furthest from Making Friends with Depression that it’s possible to be. This link should allow you to look inside, and you’ll see what I mean!

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It tells the story of an affair from the alternating perspectives of the wife and the mistress and is half price to download between Friday 16 and Sunday 18 December as a present to all my readers – and yours – so they can treat themselves to an illicit affair via my novel over Christmas should they fancy it.

Thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog, Becca. It’s been really interesting to get this chance to talk about all my books, and keep up the great work!

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Sarah Rayner’s fiction books.

Thank you so much for answering all the questions Sarah, and for the half price download of The Other Half! It has been great to have you on If only I could read faster and I wish you lots of luck with future books.

All of Sarah Rayner’s books can be found on Amazon UK and Amazon USI particularly recommend One Moment One Morning.

Q&A with Angela Marsons

I am so excited to share a Q&A with Angela Marsons. Angela is the author of the brilliant Detective Kim Stone novels. I have read and reviewed all four of the Kim Stone books and I’ve given them all 5* which is pretty impressive. She has also written two other books, The Middle Child and My Name Is which I have yet to read.

Angela thank you so much for joining us at If Only I Could Read Faster!

1. Can you tell us something about you that we, your readers, don’t know about you?

I rode a moped until I was almost forty years of age. I am terrified of moths and heights which I know makes me a bit of a wimp!

2. Do you have any strange or quirky writing habits?

I’m not sure about quirky or strange but I do still like to write the first draft of my books with pencils and A4 notepads. Each time I start a new journey I have to have a new box of pencils and some brand new colourful notepads.

3. How do you come up with the names of your characters?

For me the name has to match the character traits that I’m trying to convey. When I was looking for a name for my main character it had to be short, sharp, to the point, one syllable, no fuss – a bit like the character herself and once the name Kim came to me I knew it was the right one. A name like Felicity would not have suited the sharpness of her character. My characters have been known to change names half way through a book if their personality has changed or developed beyond what I originally had in mind.

4. Are any of your characters based on you?

Ha, not really. There are elements of Kim that I suppose come from me. Before being lucky enough to write for a living I managed a diverse team of 70+ security officers at Merry Hill shopping centre. It’s not a job you can do without a certain level of directness. However, I do like to think I have slightly better social skills than Kim.

5. Have any of your books had an alternative ending that you didn’t end up using? If so can you tell us any of them?!

The ending in Silent Scream with regard to the relationship between Kim and Lucy was going to be very different. Initially, I had planned that Kim was going to help Lucy in an altogether different kind of way (by ending her misery) but as I was writing the book my gut started to react unfavourably to this idea and the very notion of writing it began to make me angry, always an indication that I’m taking the wrong path somewhere. As the relationship between them grew I knew that I had to end it differently and as soon as I thought about what Kim does for Lucy I knew it felt right.

6. What research did you do into the character Alex, in Evil Games who was a psychopath? How did you find it writing about that character? 

I have always been interested in the sociopath/psychopath personality. I am intrigued by a person that is unable to feel empathy for other human beings. To research I read a lot of books on the subject and trawled the internet for more background information. I really enjoyed writing about Alex (quite worrying I know) but it was enlightening having that freedom to explore the personality of someone without conscience.

7. What is the most surprising thing that you learnt while writing Play Dead?

Play Dead was not an easy book to write. The idea had been in my head for quite some time but when it came to putting it onto paper this one would not behave itself. When I sent it off to my editor I was convinced she was going to send a note back saying ‘start again’. Luckily she loved it and I learned to trust in the process. Each journey will be different and some will be harder than others but I learned to trust that it will work out in the end.

8. A lot of Play Dead takes place in what is commonly known as a body farm. And what research did you do into what goes on in a body farm? Is there a body farm in the UK?

There isn’t a body farm that I know of but perhaps that’s a good thing. I did my research by reading about the facilities in America. I spent a great deal of time reading up on the type of experiments they do and the results they are hoping to achieve.

9. Would you donate your body to a body farm?

Yes, I think I would. If anyone can learn something useful from my body after I’ve gone then that’s a good thing.

10. D.I. Kim Stone is such a wonderful, but complicated character. If a movie of your Kim Stone books were to be made who would you like to play her?

The picture in my head is Kate Beckinsale from the Underworld films. Her attitude is SO Kim Stone in those films and I think she is a fabulous actress. And I’d have Bradley Walsh to play Bryant.

11. You are mainly known for your Kim Stone books but you have written other books before, can you tell us a bit about them and why we should read them? I have them on my kindle ready to read but haven’t quite got there yet.

My other two books are stories that explore human relationships and subjects that I find intriguing. I have always been interested in the ‘why’ of people’s actions. I want to know what drives them and these two stories gave me the opportunity to do that. My Name Is focuses on a friendship that builds between two very different women who both suffer with alcoholism. The Middle Child explores the complex relationships between three sisters raised in a physically abusive home.

12. If you were going to be stuck on a desert island who would you want with you? You can choose three people.

a. a character from one of your books – It has to be Kim Stone – she is very resourceful.

b. a character from someone else’s book – Jennifer Knight from Caroline Mitchell’s books. She has paranormal abilities and could let someone know where we were (I’m assuming we haven’t got phones!)

c. someone famous that you don’t know in person or on social media. Aaron Sorkin. He wrote The West Wing (my favourite program) and I would love to have him as a captive and grill him.

You can also choose one book to take. Disclosure by Michael Crichton.

13. And finally can you tell us where people can find you on social media?

I’m @WriteAngie in twitter and Angela Marsons Author on Facebook.

 

If this Q&A has inspired you to read some of Angela Marsons’ books then you can buy them all on Amazon UK and Amazon US. You can read my review of Play Dead, the latest DI Kim Stone books here.