Philip Spires

In 2009, Philip Spires collaborated with the sporting legend, Martin Offiah, to produce a book, Martin Offiah’s 50 Of The Best, celebrating the skills and thrills of rugby league.

Hi Philip, Welcome to Literature & Fiction!  Please tell everyone a little about yourself.   

Philip: I was born in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, in 1952 and was brought up in Sharlston, then a mining village. I did grammar school in Normanton, took a chemical engineering degree from Imperial College, London, and then decided to teach, after a PGCE at King’s. I then went to Kenya for two years as a  volunteer. On returning to Britain, I did sixteen years in London education. But the travel bug was with me, and in 1992, my wife and I decided to move to Brunei, where we lived for almost seven years. Three years in Zayed University, Abu Dhabi,  followed and then semi-retirement beckoned and we moved to Spain. Since 2003, I have done some part-time teaching, we run a small tourist rental business and I have completed a PhD, as well as five books.  

When did the writing bug bite, and in what genre(s)?  

Philip: The only time I have ever suffered travel sickness was when I was very young indeed. I insisted on writing out the story of The Three Little Pigs in an old desk diary while on the back seat of a Standard Eight – and I was very, very sick. I write better than that these days, I hope. So I must have enjoyed creative writing as a child. I even tried to write a couple of novels when I was a student. Thankfully, they are both lost. I even wrote poetry. Unfortunately, I still have it. I have kept a commonplace book since 1973. It’s a work-book, not a diary, full of random jottings, book reviews, concert reviews, travel writing, research notes and trivia.  In 1978, when I set about the first of my Kenyan novels, I used material I had written in the commonplace book while I lived in Kenya. The second Kenyan novel, Mission, arose out of issues that A Fool’s Knot could only skirt. The common-place book remains an idea bank that bears interest. There’s a wealth of material in it. Nowadays, it’s almost exclusively just book reviews, however.

When you started writing, what goals did you want to accomplish? Is there a message you want readers to grasp?  

Philip: I have always been fascinated by politics, not only in the ideological sense, but also at the level of relationships between individuals and groups. It was Karl Marx’s  wonderful writing on the links between individual identity and roles within economic systems – means of production, if you like – that prompted me to revisit my own background. My home area, once proudly socialist and comprising miners and families who worked hard, played hard, but always fairly, and then died young, is now transformed into a shadow of its former dignity, populated by apparently compliant servants of consumerism, most of whom can’t afford to consume. In Kenya, I was fascinated by people’s  relationship with the poverty that dominated their lives. In Brunei and the Emirates, it was wealth and its pursuit that endowed respect, fed aspiration and moulded attitudes towards the poorer rest of the planet. How characters are formed by their nurture, how lives are sculpted by their social context, and how their presumptions generate interests that determine action continues to fascinate me. My writing explores these ideas and relationships – at least I hope it does! I write about ordinary people, because every life is extra-ordinary. Kings, queens, princesses, spies, celebrities, those famous by virtue of mere fame are, for me, smaller than life, their identities often a product of someone  else’s  marking concept rather than their own even canalised experience. I thus find such folk less than interesting. But the characters that populate the novels of writers such as Graham Greene, William Boyd, Julian Barnes or Pat Barker – to name but a few – are fascinating in every detail.  So, it is this process of nurture within nature that underpins what I write. Individual journeys through life are unique and intrinsically  interesting. There’ll  always be the odd issue to confront along the way!  

Briefly tell us about your latest book.  Is it part of a series or stand-alone?   

Philip: My latest book, Voyagers, examines several strands related to individual and group identity. It’s a set of short stories loosely based on the experience of travel. It is thus not travel writing, as such, but it may be writing about travellers. It opens with a novella, Discoverers. This is set inBrunei and tells how a college teacher sets out on a routine assignment that would be anything but routine for someone who did not live in primary rain forest. But the teacher’s time is up. His supervisors want him out, though he only becomes aware of the threat after its effects have already begun to bite. He is bright enough to counter and to outwit, but has he forgotten something? Maybe it has something to do with a political campaign he is running? Eventually, if we want our own way, who cares about the facts? In other stories, a little-travelled retiree is rudely intro-duced to the potential threat of the matriarchal. A young art student, apparently liberal, even revolutionary in taste and style, reverts to a new-found middle-class safety when confronted with a choice. In a distant future, a tele-transported man fails to be reunited with his own identity. Australian travellers feel threatened by the claims and connections of a casual acquaintance, but would you believe him? A young couple visit an idyllic village where local lives are anything but idyllic. Things are what they seem and simultaneously they are not. Things agree and contradict; it’s the interpreter that adds meaning and consequence. Reality is often merely neutral.

How do you develop characters? Setting?

Philip: The settings for the Voyagers stories are all real, culled from my own observations and descriptions of trips that I faithfully recorded over the years in my commonplace book. The stories visit some well-known tourist sites – Ephesus and Bodrum, Florence and Venice, the Vietnam coast, a Devon village. The Brunei rain forest is more out of the way, and I doubt many tourists visit the green room in Westminster Central Hall. Sometimes the events and the people are based on those encountered in my travels. The Australians were in Dubrovnik and they were talking to a spiv in a bar. There really was a field trip up the Belalong River into Temburong’s forest. The pub in Devon did exist. Some of the people in the stories were also there, but the characters are amalgams, constructs and juxtapositions to highlight relationships, habits, opportunities, threats. The child abuser I place inVietnam was quite real, but I encountered him inIndonesia. The writer and the politician who meet in Protesters are both real people, though the story does not name them. I know they met in that place because I was in the audience to hear both of them speak. I imagined what might have transpired between them behind the scenes, however. The characters in my Kenyan books also draw on real people, but real people conjoined, merged to create a narrative. There really was a man killed by his father as a result of a family disagreement based on cultural conflict. I never met either of them, but I knew the issue over which they disagreed, and that substance became the plot.

Who is the most unusual/most likeable character?

Philip: In Voyagers I like the central character in Assessors, the science fiction story, despite the fact that we never actually meet him. He is an engineer, a specialist in the maintenance of the urban domes in which people now live. He has been to a conference and has been – as usual – tele-transported back home. His problem arises out of his apparent re-classification at his destination. His body arrives intact, but his intellect has been down-graded, his knowledge and skill-base stripped out and replaced with only basic functions. He writes, apparently, an email asking for his case to be reassessed. If the downgrade was intended, then what motivated it? If it was not intended, then could he have his old intellect back, please? The fawning, grovelling style he adopts, however, might not necessarily be him. The story was inspired by a report of BBC Radio 4´s Today programme in which an American-Japanese physics professor predicted the imminent realisation of an ability to tele-transport large molecules by virtue of our intricate knowledge of genetic sequences. The very next report featured the opening of  Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Five, where travellers and their luggage could not be reunited.

Share the best review (or a portion) that you’ve ever had. 

Philip: Here are a few excerpts from Amazon reviews of Mission.

 A tragic accident is seen through the eyes of five different characters, including the victim. Unforgettable – I became totally absorbed. I will remember my time spent in Phil Spires’ African community for a long, long time.  Highly recommended.  (Maureen Moss)

 … Despite the events being trodden over by several people, there’s always something fresh to discover, a new insight into a character, a shocking revelation, and even though you think you know everything already, you read on, wanting to understand the individuals and their inner worlds, and still learn more. The narrative is coloured by the sights and smells of a small town in Africa, the petty tribal disagree-ments and the long-lasting resentment of past ignominies under colonial rule. It is not a light read, but it is rewarding. It’s obvious that these characters lived with Spires for several years, he knows them so well, and by the end of the book, we do too.  A memorable and quite remarkable book.  (Nik Morton)  

 The plot is centred round the lives of five characters who are more or less implicated in the death of Munyasya a derelict ex Kenyan army officer. Although the `accident’ occurred more than thirty years ago this tragedy is still playing out its dramatic consequences in their lives.  In reading the novel I was constantly reminded of Lawrence Darrell’s great work `The Alexandria Quartet’. In “Mission” the sense of place is not so poetically depicted but there is no doubt that we are in Africa its vibrancy and heat pervades each chapter and as in the Quartet we see one event or set of circumstances from the varying points of view of the main characters.  How differently each views those same events! (Michael Elsmere)  

 A fine story set in beautiful Kenya, colorful and filled with mystery, intrigue, and twists. The characters are real as is their perceptions when seen through their eyes. A  magnificent  story set in magnificent locale. (Bill Copeland)

 What are your current projects?

Philip: My next project is already finished in that the text is written. What I am doing at the moment is precisely nothing, however, except reflect on the ideas it contains. A couple of people have read the book and I am waiting a while before re-reading it myself. I might change some aspects of it. Who knows? It’s called A Search for Donald Cottee. Don, also known as Donkey because of a thicker than usual lower lip, has retired early after years on sickness benefit, having once been an electrician in a coal mine. He and his wife, Suzie, have driven to Spain in a Swift Sundance and have parked permanently on a Benidorm caravan site. Suzie, who prefers to hide a motor-accident scar on her left arm under a suitable garment, long ago adopted the nickname Poncho. So Donkey Cottee and Poncho Suzie seek a new and restful life in Spain. Don continues to campaign on environmental issues, being passionately against wind-farms. Via an old flame who threatens to reignite, Suzie takes on the management of a cabaret bar. Don meets women of his dreams, is disowned by the daughter he has, is captivated by the one he perhaps never had, falls into caves and gets mixed up with politics. Suzie makes a ripping success of a bar that the owners wanted to fail so they could demolish it. My parody of Don Quixote is a comedy that turns suddenly and devastatingly tragic. I hope to publish later this year.  

How does your environment/upbringing colour your writing?

Philip: From the material of A Search For Donald Cottee it will be clear that the experience of Yorkshire mining areas over the last four decades is an important element in the book. As youngsters, fired with the late 1950s and early 1960s myths of mobility, betterment and opportunity, Don and Suzie strove to realise their personal and shared dreams. Their daughter got everything she wanted only to reject it. They got their bigger house and a mortgage to match. When the strike of the 1980s began, Don continued to work because, as an electrician, he was “maintenance”. But he was duly ostracised, labelled a traitor by his colleagues, labelled at home perhaps in the same way that the rest of ThatcheriteBritain labelled the strikers as traitors. Don was thus doubly an outcast, damned for being and damned for not being… And then, after years on the “club”, Don retires to find he is still a little man in others’ bigger schemes, despite the film-set location of the Med, sunshine and cheap beer. But in the end we are still not sure what happened to Don or Suzie. He might just have had the last laugh, if there was one…

Where can folks learn more about your books and events?

Philip: I have a website at www.philipspires.co.uk where you can find some extracts from the books. A new page devoted to Donald Cottee will appear soon. Voyagers, my travel stories, have their own page at http://www.philipspires.co.uk/voyagers.htm.  Please do have a look at the material, but please do remember that all I want to do is write the kind of book that I would want to read. If you would like to share that experience, I would be at least flattered. The books are available now in Kindle and other ebook editions, though Voyagers can also be bought as paperback. Here’s the Amazon links for my work:

Amazon.co.uk  

Amazon.com

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Frank Fiore

Frank Fiore is a best selling author of over 50,000 copies of his non-fiction books that include: Launching Your Yahoo! Business,  Succeeding at Your Yahoo! Business, Write a Business Plan in No Time, The 2005 Online Shopping Directory for Dummies, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting an Online Business, eMarketing Strategies (translated into other languages), Successful Affiliate Marketing for Merchants , TechTV’s Starting an Online Business and Dr. Livingston’s Online Shopping Safari Guidebook

Shelagh: Please tell us a little about yourself, Frank.

Frank: I live in Paradise Valley, AZ., with my son and wife of 30 years. I have a B.A. in Liberal Arts and General Systems Theory from Stockton State College and a Master Degree in Education at the University of Phoenix. During my college years, I started, wrote and edited the New Times newspaper which is now a multi-state operation.

My writing experience includes guest columns on social commentary and future trends published in the Arizona Republic and the Tribune papers in the metro Phoenix area. Through my writings, I explain in a simplified manner, complex issues and trends.

My interests in future patterns and trends range over many years and many projects. I co-wrote the Terran Project, a self-published book on community futures design processes, and worked as a researcher for Alvin Toffler on a series of high school texts on the future. I’ve designed and taught courses and seminars on the future of society, technology and business and was appointed by the Mayor of Phoenix to serve on the Phoenix Futures Forum as co-chairperson and served on several vital committees.

I’ve also written a book titled To Christopher that, under the guise of a book to my young son, leads the reader through social commentary, personal experience and entertaining teaching stories on a thoughtful journey through the challenges and opportunities that face the next generation.

Shelagh: When did you begin writing, and in what genre(s)?

Frank: To tell youth truth, way back in High School. I wrote the first few chapters of my first novel. I completed a novel many years later in college but never pursued publishing it. Over the last 10 years I wrote a dozen or so non-fiction books but my love was always to be a novelist.

Shelagh: When you started writing, what goals did you want to accomplish? Is there a message you want readers to grasp?

Frank: I think almost every novelist has a back-story to tell. What motivates them to write a book or perhaps a moral or lesson to get across to the reader. My message in CyberKill is one of ‘unintended consequences’.

Shelagh: Briefly tell us about your latest book. Series or stand-alone?

Frank: CyberKill is my first book of fiction.

A brilliant programmer, Travis Cole, inadvertently creates “Dorian,” an artificial intelligence that lives on the Internet. After Cole attempts to terminate his creation, Dorian stalks his young daughter through cyberspace in an attempt to reach Cole to seek revenge.

When cyber-terrorism events threaten the United States, they turn out to stem from the forsaken and bitter Dorian.

In the final conflict, Dorian seeks to kill his creator – even if it has to destroy all of humanity to do it.

The geographic locations, government and military installations and organizations, information warfare scenarios, artificial intelligence, robots, and the information and communications technology in this book all exist.

As for SIRUS, pieces of the technology are either in existence or in the research and development stage. According to the Department of Defense, it doesn’t exist.

The Fars News Agency of Iran reported otherwise.

Shelagh: What’s the hook for the book?

Frank: A twist on the Frankenstein myth. The Frankenstein – the Artificial Intelligent piece of software – stalks his young daughter through cyberspace. It asks the question: “How far would an Artificial Intelligence go for revenge?”

Shelagh: How do you develop characters?

Frank: I do a detailed outline of the book before I write it. Characters are developed to drive the plot. So plot comes first then I create characters and motivate them to drive the plot.

Shelagh: Who is the most unusual/most likeable character?

Frank: I like Dallas. He’s a techno-nerd – a thorn in the side of the establishment. Like me.

Shelagh: Do you have a specific writing style? Preferred POV?

Frank: I write in thrid person.

Shelagh: How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?

Frank: Well, my background is in the computer industry so CyberKill was easy to write as far as technology is concerned. My main character reflects me. Intellectual. Not any kind of James Bond sort even though my books are thrillers. He uses his wits to get out of trouble. A driven person but into short cuts.

Shelagh: Share the best review (or a portion) that you’ve ever had.

Frank: “DO YOU WANT TO EXECUTE? Y/N”

With the stroke of the ‘yes’ button Travis Cole’s life, the life of his daughter, his friends and everyone on the planet hangs in the balance. Thinking he deleted all of his artificial intelligent (AI) agents Travis begins a new life. What he is unaware of is…he forgot one.

Dorian, the leader of the Digitari Brotherhood and forsaken AI, unleashes multiple cyber-terrorist attacks on the United States with one true target in mind – Travis Cole. As each of the attacks from the bitter and forsaken AI fail Travis gets closer to realizing the truth of the nightmare his life has become. Dorian will stop at nothing to have its revenge against the man who tried to terminate him, even if that means destroying mankind to do it.

“Cyberkill” is a sci-fi thrill ride with fast pace action and gripping realism.

It is clearly evident that Author Frank Fiore went to great lengths researching the technology, locations, and government agencies when writing “Cyberkill” which lends to the believability of the story. But Fiore goes beyond that by developing rich and interesting characters, tense drama and moments of mirth. It is easy to connect with Travis as he tries to save the day but what is amazing about Fiore’s writing style is his ability to deliver the motivations for Dorian in a way that readers can both understand and sympathize with.
By weaving together current events, the Internet, real scenarios, action and suspense “Cyberkill” instills enough paranoia to make the reader wonder as they frantically turn the pages to find out what happens next.

Those who read Science Fiction will love “Cyberkill” but make no mistake anyone who uses a computer will enjoy this thriller. This story of revenge and survival will stay in your mind long after you finish reading it. “Cyberkill” is a must read.

The Internet will never be the same after you read…”Cyberkill.”

Shelagh: What are your current projects?

Frank: I am currently working on a new three book character series called The Chronicles of Jeremy Nash. The Chronicles of Jeremy Nash is a new thriller series about a noted debunker and skeptic of conspiracy theories, urban legends and myths. Jeremy Nash is pressed into pursuing them by threats to himself, family and reputation. The Chronicles of Jeremy Nash capitalizes on the continuing interest of the reading public in conspiracy theories, unsolved mysteries, urban myths, New Age beliefs and paranormal events. I also feeds the growing appetite of the public for ‘puzzle stories’ in the vein of National Treasure and Indiana Jones with a little of the X-Files thrown in. The formula of the chronicles consists of a conspiracy theory, unsolved mystery, urban myth, New Age belief or paranormal practice that Nash is forced to pursue; combined with an underlying real world event, organization or persons that is somehow connected to what he is pursuing. This provides the thriller aspect of the stories. The web site is www.jeremynashonline.com

Shelagh: Where can folks learn more about your books and events?

Frank: Where to find Frank Fiore online:
Website: http://www.frankfiore.com
Twitter: followthenovel
Facebook: Facebook profile

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/frank-fiore/0/189/b86

Where to buy in print:
http://www.booklocker.com/books/4078.html

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Linda Rettstatt

Linda Rettstatt is an award-winning author of women’s fiction and contemporary romance. Linda’s short stories have garnered recognition and awards from Writer’s Digest and Pennwriters, Inc. Her writing has been compared to that of Nicholas Sparks and Elizabeth Berg.

Shelagh: Hi Linda, please tell everyone a little bit about yourself.

Linda: My very first writing gig was reviewing community theater productions for my hometown newspaper in Brownsville, Pennsylvania. I was an advertising clerk, but got the reviewing task because, frankly, no one on the news staff wanted it. But seeing my name in the by line was a thrill. I had wanted to become a writer after high school, but had no sense of direction and very little self-confidence. After years of working in music and social work, I rediscovered my passion for writing. I now have six novels published, with two more contracted for publication in this coming year. And I have an agent who is handling my one contemporary romance novel. I now reside in Southaven, Mississippi (where I get homesick every October until the first snow flies in Pennsylvania). I’m the owner and moderator of The Women’s Fiction Writers Exchange, an online critique group of women writers from across the United States and Canada.

Shelagh: When did you first begin to write, and in what genre(s)?

Linda: I fell in love with the written word early in life when my grandfather would read to me—until I was old enough to read right back. In high school, I wrote poetry and, later, song lyrics and music. But the dream to write novels never died. I sat down one January day in 2004 and decided to see if I could write a novel. I had fallen in love with women’s fiction, the books of Elizabeth Berg in particular. My first novel, And the Truth Will Set You Free, was completed in five months, published two years later and then finaled for an EPIC e-book award in 2008.

Shelagh: When you started writing, what goals did you want to accomplish? Is there a message you want readers to grasp?

Linda: When I started writing, my only goal was to see if I could write a complete novel that would hopefully be worth reading. I now have six published with two more under contract. <shrugs> Guess I can.

On my website, I say of my own writing, “I write for women—stories of strength, love, humor, and hope.” I want to write characters with whom my readers can relate. I want my stories to give women laughter, tears, a sense of not being alone, and the permission to be themselves.

Shelagh: Briefly tell us about your latest book. Is it part of a series or stand-alone?

Linda: My latest book, Next Time I’m Gonna Dance, was released on January 2 by Champagne Books. It is the story of 44-year-old Emmie Steele who is facing her second diagnosis of breast cancer in two years. Adding insult to injury, her husband left while she was getting treatment following her first mastectomy. She draws on the support of her family and her four best girfriends—fearless women who will stand beside, push, pull, and carry Emmie through this nightmare. As Emmie ponders second and, hopefully, third chances, she realizes her one unusual regret: she never learned to dance. Learning to dance becomes a metaphor for Emmie as she undergoes surgery, treatment, and healing, and as she finds new love.

Shelagh: What’s the hook for the book?

Linda: Next Time I’m Gonna Dance deals with the issue of breast cancer. As you can imagine, the story carries with it a great deal of tension. The book opens as follows:

Emmie Steele paced across the doctor’s waiting room. She resisted the urge to place a hand over her left breast and prod, to prove there was no need to worry.
“Mrs. Steele?”
At the sound of her name, Emmie jumped. “Yes.”
“Dr. Gibson’s ready for you.”

Shelagh: How do you develop characters and setting?

Linda: What I admire about some of the writers I enjoy reading (Elizabeth Berg, Kris Radish, Lisa Scottoline) is that their characters seems like real people—women I’d like to sit down with and have a cup of coffee. That’s my goal in developing characters. I’d like my readers to feel the same way. As for setting, five of my six published books have some connection to the Pittsburgh, PA region where I grew up. But I’ve also taken some of my characters on jaunts to other parts of the country. I’m not fond of research, but I do enjoy researching other cities and states if I’ve not yet visited them. I actually wrote one book partially set on Mackinac Island, Michigan, then went there to see if I was right about the island. I can attest to the accuracy of their Visitor’s Bureau guide.

Shelagh: Who’s the most unusual/most likeable character?

Linda: I think the most unusual and likeable character I’ve created is that of Grandma Carmela, aka Sophialoren (all one word), in Finding Hope (2008, Wings ePress). She’s 80 going on 18, but with the wisdom and freedom that her age has afforded her.

Shelagh: Do you have specific techniques to help you maintain the course of the plot?

Linda: I’m pretty much a pantser, not a plotter. I’ve found that writing a brief summary of the story and character bios helps me stay on track. But, truthfully, I often don’t know the entire plot until I’m well into the story. I let my character lead me. After all, it’s her story I’m telling.

Shelagh: Share the best review (or a portion) that you’ve ever had.

Linda: I loved this review from Manic Readers for Finding Hope (which has finaled for a 2010 EPIC e-book award).

Manic Readers Review
http://www.manicreaders.com
Reviewer: Valkyrie’s Lady

Finding Hope
by Linda Rettstatt

Wings ePress
http://www.wings-press.com

What do you do when you’re tired of lying to the boss’ wife, tired of being the taxi service, gourmet chef and personal valet for your entire family? You quit! That is exactly what Janet DeMarco does – she quits her job with her husband’s brother (gives herself a month’s severance pay, too), she posts cleaning, laundry and cooking class schedules for the household and expects results. That’s the calm part.

Janet decides her new life needs a new name. She becomes Hope. Hope becomes a blonde, goes walking in the park, meets new and unique people and discovers that her mother-in-law isn’t near as foreboding as Hope/Janet once thought. Her grandma-in-law is a wonderful gal, thin, Italian, up for anything. When Hope shows her how to use her new laptop; Carmela immediately puts in “Bad Boy,” looking for a horse. That isn’t what she gets, believe me!

Finding Hope is one of the best books I’ve read this year. The scenarios of the family dealing with revolt from Mom, the renaming plan goes much farther than just Janet/Hope—all of it is just wonderful. Not only will you find Hope, you will also find Joy and Sofialoren. I would highly recommend this book to anyone wanting a warm, funny story to pass a wintery afternoon with—you’ll love it!

Shelagh: What are your current projects?

Linda: I’m in the rewriting phase of a novel titled Unconditional. It’s an exploration of unconditional love and the ways life events test us. And I’m finishing a work titled Act of Contrition about a young widow who lost her husband and son in a tragic car crash and now must find a way to live with her guilt over having survived. She retreats to the home where her grandparents raised her on the coast of Maine and comes face to face with the man she walked away from eight years earlier, but whom she has never stopped loving.

Shelagh: Where can folks learn more about your books and events?

Linda: My books are available at Wings ePress http://www.wings-press.com and at Champagne Books  www.champagnebooks.com

Excerpts, reviews and links can be found on my website:  www.lindarettstatt.com where readers can also send a message to be added to my quarterly e-newsletter mailing list. And you can check out my blog at www.lindarettstatt-author.blogspot.com

Shelagh: Thank you for joining us today, Linda.

Linda: Thanks so much for having me here today. And for all the readers here, I’ll echo Emmie’s wish: “I hope you dance, for whatever that means in your life.”

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Interview: Shelagh Watkins

Susan Whitfield, author of three published novels, Genesis Beach, Just North of Luck and Hell Swamp, interviewed Shelagh Watkins on her blog on Monday 12th October:

Shelagh Watkins is writer, editor and publisher at Mandinam Press, and author of three books: Mr. Planemaker’s Flying Machine, Mr. Planemaker’s Diving Machine and The Power of Persuasion. She set up the Children’s Fiction group on LibraryThing,  and the Published Authors Network group on LinkedIn and is administrator of the Published Authors forum. There are over five thousand members in the combined groups and networks. When she is not networking, administrating, publishing or editing, she miraculously finds time to write!

Susan: Welcome to my blog, Shelagh.

Shelagh: Hi Susan, Thank you for inviting me to be your guest.

Susan: When did the writing bug bite, and in what genre(s)?

Shelagh: I began writing in 1998 and wrote my first novel, The Power of Persuasion. The book, a work of literary fiction set in Scotland, takes the reader around the world from Europe to the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Singapore, and then back to Scotland. I wrote my second novel, Mr. Planemaker’s Flying Machine, in 2002. Although a work of children’s fiction, the book is aimed at a wide audience: from nine-year-olds to ninety-year-olds! I wrote the sequel, Mr. Planemaker’s Diving Machine in 2011.

Susan: When you started writing, what goals did you want to accomplish? Is there a message you want readers to grasp?

Shelagh: The Power of Persuasion, which I submitted to all the major London publishing houses, was well received but failed to attract a single publisher. Along with the rejection slips, the advice from all the publishers was the same: I needed to find an agent. However, finding an agent proved to be as difficult as finding a publisher so I stopped writing. I did not write again until 2002 when my brother died and left two young children, then aged five and eight years old. I began writing again and, this time, I found a publisher. The second book, Mr. Planemaker’s Flying Machine, was published in 2005. Two years later, the publisher, PublishAmerica, gave me joint print rights and exclusive electronic rights to my novel and I self-published the book through Lulu.com and as an ebook on: Amazon’s kindle.

In 2007, I rewrote The Power of Persuasion, which took twelve months to complete. In January 2008, I set up Mandinam Press to publish the novel. Having learned how to self-publish, I used the experience to publish Forever Friends, an anthology of short stories and poems written by members of the Published Authors forum and network. The book was published in September 2008 and, this month, appeared in Today’s Chicago Woman magazine.

The only message I would pass on to anyone setting out with the idea of becoming a published author is to be realistic about expectations and do not have a preconceived notion about the number of sales a first time author should make. For some new authors, the number of books may be in the thousands but, for the majority of newcomers, the number of books sold is more likely to be in the hundreds. This means that royalties will be small − small enough to be disregarded as an increase in yearly income. It is far more likely that the expenses incurred in selling a few hundred copies of a book will far exceed the amount earned in royalties.

This situation is no different to those facing most talented individuals who pay traveling expenses and teaching/coaching expenses when pursuing their chosen career. It is the same with writers. Everyone has to learn and, as such, new writers should accept that the learning process will involve some costs.

Susan: Briefly tell us about your book(s).

Shelagh: Mr. Planemaker’s Flying Machine is a story of flight, fantasy, adventure and courage. Although Emmelisa Planemaker is a strong-willed little girl, she misses her dad, who died when she was only five years old.

Emmelisa and her brother Dell have a happy and carefree life until their father becomes ill and is forced to retire at the age of forty-three. After retirement, Mr. Planemaker decides to build a scaled, model airplane because he wants to build something lasting for his children but he dies before completing the task.

Three years later, Emmelisa is being seriously bullied at school by a group led by the notorious school bully, Mayja Troublemaker. When Emmelisa becomes increasingly withdrawn and unhappy, she seeks help and advice through the computer her father had used to locate specialist model aircraft companies in his quest to build a model airplane.

The computer is more than just a computer and full of surprises: Mr. A. Leon Spaceman being one of them! He guides the two children to Hardwareland, where they train to become astronauts and take on an extraordinary mission into space: to follow their father’s TRAIL OF LIGHT.

Mr. Planemaker’s Flying Machine was a top ten finisher in the Preditors & Editors Readers’ Poll 2005.

The Power of Persuasion is a tongue-in-cheek work of literary fiction set in Scotland. The title is taken from Jane Austen’s Persuasion. The satirical fictional story is about a journalist who stalks a reader (as opposed to a reader who obsessively reads everything written by a particular journalist). The reader, Beth Durban, is aware that she is being followed around and is totally bemused by the unwanted attention:

Beth Durban is persuaded to write a letter to the editor’s page of a national Sunday newspaper in response to a film critic’s prejudice against adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels. When she receives an unexpected visit from the newspaper’s critic, F. William D’Arcy, she is bemused but, after several sightings of the inquisitive journalist, she’s neither pleased nor amused.

Beth is so distracted by the unwelcome interest from such an arrogant man she fails to see that a close work colleague is falling in love with her. As a scientific researcher in a Scottish University, she has led a varied life travelling the world, spending time in New Zealand, Canada, Australia, America, Singapore and Israel. With such a full life, she has had little time to form any serious, romantic attachments that might lead to a permanent relationship.

When she decides to take driving lessons, Beth opens up new opportunities for herself and realises that perhaps she isn’t too old to find love after all.

The Power of Persuasion was a top ten finisher in the Preditors & Editors Readers’ Poll 2008.

Susan: What’s the hook for the books?

Shelagh: There is an underlying philosophy to Mr. Planemaker’s Flying Machine that is left for readers to figure out for themselves. The opening chapters lay the foundation for the philosophical underpinnings of the book. Mr. Planemaker is dying. He knows this as do his family, friends and work colleagues. They are all trying to help in this last stage of his life.

In his dreams, the Dream House is his final resting place. In his first dream, when the children approach the door, the house disappears because the time is not right for them. They will not be stepping inside the house for quite some time. Bill Dare, who built the house, tells Mr. Planemaker that no one lives inside the house and no one has ever lived inside the house – this is the house of the dead, not the living. The door to the house is missing and cannot be closed or reopened: a one-way passage. Mr. Planemaker asks about the missing door and Mr. Dare explains that the door is actually there and those who can see it won’t be able to walk into the house. In other words, the door is always closed to the living and only open for the dying.

In all his dreams, Mr. Planemaker asks about the children because every waking minute is spent thinking about his son and daughter and what will happen to them when he has gone.

At first, Mr. Planemaker is afraid and he doesn’t want to step inside the house. It is grey and gloomy and unwelcoming. To allay his fears, the people who built the house – the architect, the builder and the workmen – are always cheerful and reassuring. They know the house is bleak and uninviting but the love and care they put into it overshadows the dull, plain appearance of the grey house.

When Mr. Planemaker meets Joy Nair, he is given his first glimpse of light inside the house. The light is warm and soft, and makes the prospect of stepping inside the hallway more attractive. However, he doesn’t step forward because his thoughts are interrupted as he remembers the children. He still wants more time with them.

At the end of chapter five, he finally gives in and his last dream takes him through the door, not into darkness but into light. Before he finally slips away, he asks about the children and is told that they are going to be okay. With that last thought, Mr. Planemaker lets go of his grasp on life and steps into life after death. Now you must read the story to find out what happens to the children.

The hook for The Power of Persuasion is on the first page:

“Do you wake on Sunday mornings feeling bright and cheerful before you step out to buy your favourite Sunday newspapers, and spend the next four hours reading the print off the page? Does this weekly ritual result in a change of temperament – signs of irritability, aggressiveness and a distinctly argumentative frame of mind? I do. To be more accurate, I did. Everyone around me suffered from my inability to avoid the very thing that caused the Jekyll and Hyde mood swings. The news items didn’t affect me much, but the journalists with a point to make were my Achilles’ heel. To a man and a woman, I disagreed with all of them. We were as black and white to each other as the printed page before me. There was no grey area, no common ground and no compromise.

How could there be compromise in a situation where they wrote and I read? In order to see one another’s point of view, I would need to explain mine. To inflict regularly my own half-baked ideas on my family would have been unfair, and yet they probably suffered more from my silent fuming than they did if I succumbed to soap box outbursts.

The more thoughts I kept to myself, the greater the irritation, but at least I did eventually begin to recognise all the symptoms of Sunday paperitis.” If you like the style of writing, you will want to read on …

Susan: How do you develop characters? Setting?

Shelagh: My characters are composites of people I know. I take characteristics of someone I know well and put those characteristics into a completely different character. A teenage girl with a bad attitude might be transfigured into a difficult young boy with a surly disposition. The appearance of the character will be very different to the real person.

Most settings are taken from real life where possible, otherwise I do extensive research to make the setting as real as possible. This was extremely important in the Power of Persuasion where every location had to be accurate whether I had visited the region or not. The reader must not be able to detect the difference.

Susan: Who’s the most unusual/most likeable character?

Shelagh: Cosmos, by a mile. He is so bright and all-knowing. He is always there if he is needed but he is never under anyone’s feet. He is the perfect companion. By the way, Cosmos is a cat, but an extremely bright one!

Susan: Do you have specific techniques to help you maintain the course of the plot?

Shelagh: No. The plot drives itself. All my brilliant ideas away from the word processor soon lose their brilliance when I begin to type. Writing seems to release a creativity that cannot be evoked any other way.

Susan: Do you have a specific writing style? Preferred POV?

Shelagh: Yes. My style of writing for children is very different to my style of writing for adults. There is a sharpness to my adult writing that is absent in my children’s novels.

Susan: Share the best review (or a portion) that you’ve ever had.

Shelagh: My best reviews are all for Mr. Planemaker’s Flying Machine, which appeals to just about anyone. The Power of Persuasion is really aimed at Jane Austen fans and not everyone is a fan! Consequently, I found these few words encouraging:

“I read your book some weeks ago and hope you do not mind, put some thoughts on paper:

I was intrigued the way you set out your book with the link of the mysterious appearances of D’Arcy. My very early and mistaken assumption was that Beth’s letter was equivalent to Elizabeth’s refusal of Darcy’s proposal of marriage by Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. If you saw the production with Colin Firth, he became frustrated at this and was obviously haunted by her.

I was particularly interested in the ‘snapshots’ – I could see where the university scenarios came from and those concerned with human interaction showed your perception of how we mortals behave. You must have done a lot of research on some of the geographical visits – I have been to most places so recognise the authenticity. Many of these could be expanded into short stories and then you could have your own anthology. Well done!”

Susan: What’s the most unexpected thing that’s happened to you as a writer?

Shelagh: I was amazed when a presenter from Preston FM community radio asked if I would be interested in a serialisation of Mr. Planemaker’s Flying Machine. The book was aired over ten weeks from May-July this year. Daily excerpts and a Sunday Omnibus edition totalled over thirteen hours of air time. It was quite brilliant. The narrator, Mike Gardner, did a superb job.

Susan: What are your current projects?

Shelagh: I am about to ask for submissions for the third anthology in the Forever series.

Susan: Where can folks learn more about your books and events?

Shelagh: On my website: http://shelaghwatkins.co.uk

Susan: Shelagh, I wish you the best with all of your many endeavors!

Shelagh: Thank you Susan for allowing me this opportunity to talk to your readers. It has been a real pleasure, and thank you to all the readers who dropped by to read this blog post.

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End of Blog Tour

The blog tour is at an end and it is time for me to sum up the last twenty days of the tour. Thank you to all the blog hosts for taking part and helping to make this a successful tour. I would like to give special thanks to all those following the tour who left comments; your support was very much appreciated! I would also like to thank everyone who joined in the tour and decided to buy a copy of Forever Friends. One of the comments I received during the tour said: Should be getting my book any day now. Can’t wait to read it. A few days later I received this from the same person: I received my copy the other day and I’m astonished by the presentation. You have done such a wonderful job with this anthology. I’ve never seen one so well presented. So, if you are looking for a well-presented anthology full of wonderful stories and poems, order a copy now; you will not be disappointed!

Forever Friends is available now from amazon.com:

Forever Friends

Thanks again for reading this and best wishes for the holiday season!

Shelagh Watkins

Day Twenty of Blog Tour

Thank you for reading this blog entry! This is an extension to the blog tour. If you missed the tour, welcome! If you stayed with us throughout, thank you for following the tour! This extension is very much in keeping with the way contributors submitted their work to the anthology. The last day for submitting was August 31st 2008 but the final submission did not arrive until September 5th! Submissions did not always arrive together. When I received and accepted two short stories from Elynne Chaplik-Aleskow, I received a request from Elynne to consider two more submissions since all four short stories would still be well within the four thousand word maximum. I agreed and accepted two more short stories.

Before I talk about the four stories, here are my answers to some interesting questions posed by Elynne:

1. What is appealing about anthologies for the reading public at large?

The short story has enjoyed something of a revival in recent years with the increased pace of life alongside busy schedules that leave less time for reading. A volume of short stories, therefore, lends itself to those who have little spare time to do all the things in the day they would like to do. The attraction of this particular collection of work lies in its diversity and variety of genres. From romance and mystery to fantasy and science fiction, there is something for everyone. While some are short and pithy, others are thought-provoking and satisfying. All are entertaining.

2. What are the advantages for readers to pick up a good anthology?

The advantages are many; the first one being time, as mentioned in my answer to the first question. Another advantage is variety; readers receive a new vision every few pages. Different writing styles can also be considered an advantage as can diversity and the opportunity to read different points of view. On an academic level, anthologies have a special appeal to teachers for classroom use because they provide examples of different ways of writing in one volume. A good anthology will have all these advantages plus the obvious attraction of a well-compiled volume of work. If, after reading a poem that follows a story, the reader is inspired to read the next short story, then the compiler has worked hard to create a book that flows from beginning to end. Always the sign of a good anthology.

3. How and why is this particular anthology special?

Forever Friends is special because it brings together writers from all over the world. The contributors to the anthology have experienced some of the same things in life but their personal experiences and how they reacted to them are unique. It is this uniqueness that they bring to the anthology. The stories and poems are full of imagination and love; human kindness, thoughtfulness and understanding; humour, wit, honesty and candour. Something for everyone!

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I would like to thank Elynne for inviting me to say more about Forever Friends. As mentioned earlier, Elynne has four stories in the anthology. Three of the short stories are true stories about events in Elynne’s life concerning her family and friends. The first of these stories, The Red Pen, is about her beloved sister Ivy. The fourth story, part of a Wright College Graduation speech Elynne gave as Distinguished Professor, is an insight into life survival skills.

Forever Friends is available now from amazon.com:  Forever Friends

Thanks again for reading this and best wishes for the holiday season!

Shelagh Watkins

December 20 Elynne Chaplik-Aleskow

Day Nineteen of Blog Tour

Thank you for reading this blog entry! This is the last post on the blog tour. If you have only just joined the tour, welcome, you have only just made it! If you have read every post, thank you for following the tour! Two days ago, I talked about the poems in Forever Friends and how some of the poems express feelings of friendship through music and nature. Last week, I mentioned that the poems in the book celebrate friendship in all its facets from loving to detached, giving a few glimpses of the other side of friendship, while others are thankful and show gratitude for the kindness of friendships and the loyalty of true friends.

Dana Rettig’s poem, Gratitude is one of a number of poems in the anthology that focus on the value of friends for their help and support. There are times in everyone’s life when they lose the motivation to continue doing something that seems impossible to achieve. If all hope seems to be gone, encouragement from a friend can make all the difference between success and failure. Dana’s poem is about the special kind of friendships that give us strength and for which we are eternally grateful.

I would like to thank Dana for inviting me to her blog to give me a chance say more about the poems in the anthology. Although this is the last blog on the original tour, I will be visiting Elynne Chaplik-Aleskow’s blog tomorrow when I will be answering some in depth questions about anthologies in general and Forever Friends in particular. Do not miss it!

Forever Friends is available now from amazon.com: Forever Friends

Thanks again for reading this and best wishes for the holiday season!

Shelagh Watkins

December 19 Dana Rettig