Please welcome this weeks guest to the Showcase.
Hi. First, a thank you to Richard for inviting me onto his showcase.
I’ve had a varied career. A creative child, I used to read and draw endlessly, and I was musical too and loved to play the piano, always escaping into my own world. But people don’t earn a living from things like that do they, or so I was told, so I trained as a physiotherapist and embarked on a sensible career. It was rewarding in many ways and I met some extraordinary and inspiring people along the way but it didn’t satisfy the creative side of me. So when a back injury obliged me to abandon physio when still young, I took advantage of the opportunity to spread my wings a little. I took a design course and then spent several years painting landscapes and seascapes in oils and watercolours, exhibiting and teaching. About fifteen years ago, I started writing novels and quickly became hooked. Of course, it was a learning curve and my first couple of books never saw the light of day, but I kept writing, honing my craft, and I have now published four novels. Sadly the painting has fallen by the wayside but I find the writing immensely satisfying and I’m thrilled that the feedback from readers has been so good.
I guess I’m nosey, but I like to describe it as being interested in people. I’m shy too: I am and always have been a watcher, a listener, never the one doing the talking. These are useful attributes when it comes to writing fiction. I love hearing people’s stories – everyone’s life is a story. I’m also fascinated by language, by turns of phrase and idiom and by body language – all those signals we transmit without saying a word. Sometimes a half-heard conversation sparks an idea in my mind; at other times it might be just a casual phrase or the snatch of an argument.
The general advice is to write what you like to read and I do. I like a good mystery, something intriguing which keeps me guessing. But I’m also fascinated by relationships and particularly by the secrets people keep and their reasons for doing so. It was an episode of ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ many years ago which started me thinking about it and I’ve become aware of it on many occasions since. So my novels are all mysteries though they don’t fit into the ‘crime’ category. They are character-driven and multi-layered. I think of them as ‘people’ books, warm, sometimes touching, even amusing at times but always with a compelling and intriguing plot line, propelling the reader through the story. Years ago, someone described my paintings as having a strong sense of place and readers say my novels do too. Three of them have been set in the southwest of England where I live and the fourth, Silent Faces Painted Ghosts, is set in Provence in France. Inevitably my own particular interests often take centre stage in them: art, writing, music and wildlife.
My most recent work, The Silence Before Thunder, was published in January of this year. Perhaps the closest to a whodunit I have yet written, it is set on the south coast of Devon, not far from where I have lived for the last eleven years. I love my adopted county and I hope that shows through in the writing. This is the setup of the story:
It’s midsummer and the annual writing workshops are about to begin at the sprawling Devon home of novelist Eleanor Lambe. A group of old friends arrive to act as tutors, bringing past rivalries and resentments with them. They include Eleanor’s former lover, the charismatic poet Frank Marwell, and his new fiancée.
The same night, Eleanor falls from her clifftop garden and lies in hospital, damaged, silent. Gossip says she jumped; the police rule out foul play. Her niece, Jo, sits at her bedside, waiting. Messy, complicated relationships mean tensions run high, made worse when Jo starts asking awkward questions.
But what really happened that night? And will Eleanor ever remember?
Reviewers describe the book as ‘gripping’ and ‘a page-turner’. There is no overt violence in the novel so I rejoice that, whilst the intrigue might keep you up late at night wanting to find out more, it won’t give you nightmares! I’m also grateful and thrilled that it was long-listed for the Dorchester Literary Festival writing prize 2019. A previous novel was long-listed last year too and in such a competitive marketplace the endorsement of my writing is much appreciated. Here is a short extract; taken from the beginning of Chapter One.
An argument always leaves an echo. Vincent had gone, slamming the study door behind him, but the row was still in the room, a tangible thing.
Eleanor heard the front door bang and turned away, feeling infinitely weary. The box file containing the manuscript he had brought was still there, insolently balanced on top of a pile of other papers, as if claiming superiority.
‘No, I want you to read it,’ he had insisted. ‘Keep it. When you get down from your high horse, you’ll see how good it is. OK, so I should have asked you first.’ He’d held up his hands in mock defeat, looking anything but apologetic. ‘Mea culpa. But you did promise to let me do another adaptation sometime if the story seemed right. I took you at your word.’
‘I promised nothing of the kind.’
‘For God’s sake, Eleanor. After all the work I’ve put in, you could at least have the decency to read it.’
The row had escalated; it had become unpleasant. And now the manuscript sat there, taunting her. It was probably good – Vincent was a fine playwright when he wasn’t dissipated – but he wasn’t to be trusted. The last time she had agreed to let him adapt one of her novels for the stage he had changed the script at the last minute, removing elements she thought essential to the narrative and introducing a new character she disliked. She wasn’t going to be tricked like that again. He was her cousin and always tried to play the ‘family’ card but their bonds weren’t that strong; she wasn’t going to compromise her work for him.
Fretful, she began to pace up and down. The study was a long, bright room with patio doors to the rear garden and a single large window to the front where she now paused to look out.
It was seven o’clock in the evening on a late Friday in June and a golden glow still illuminated the grounds. The house stood on a small coastal headland in Devon, Eleanor’s own private land, which fell away down rocky cliffs and through woods to the sea. An old rambling farmhouse had stood on the site when she’d first bought it but permission had been granted to raze it and build a new house on its footprint. The old farmyard was still there though. Shrubs, paths and trees separated it from the house but Eleanor could imagine what she could not see: the paved courtyard with a long run of low converted outhouses on either side, each now a small apartment; the old barn, tidied up and fitted out with a stage, heating, lights and seating.
The annual summer writing workshops were about to begin and all the old familiar faces would be gathering there to act as tutors, probably bickering as usual over which apartment they had been given. No doubt there would be the same comparisons of royalties and advances and the same complaints about how hard it was to make a living from writing. There would be camaraderie and stories of their youth, retold and endlessly embellished, but there’d be the old rivalries and petty squabbles too. She had heard it all before. She must have known most of them for more than thirty-five years, since they had all been students more or less. She was fifty-six already. Where had the time gone?
As with all my other books, The Silence Before Thunder is available across all major e platforms and clicking here will take you to your preferred retailer. https://books2read.com/u/3Jy0PJ It is also available as a paperback and is in stock in a number of Devon bookshops but can be ordered online or at any bookshop by quoting the ISBN: 9780993225772.
Though I have little time for painting these days, I do still play the piano and I sing with a local chamber choir. I also have a keen interest in the environment and a fascination with learning foreign languages. If you are interested in my writing or have read any of my books, I’d love to hear from you. Writing is a very solitary occupation so feedback from readers is always welcome. I do appreciate the time and trouble taken to leave reviews; they are very precious. Also, a like of my Facebook page will keep you up to date with what I’m doing.
Or if you would like to join my mailing list, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will only send you an occasional mailing relating to new releases, appearances or special offers. I never share contact details with anyone.
My thanks to this weeks guest for a great post. I hope you all enjoyed it.
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Have a good week,