Friday 31 October 2014

ICYMI - Book giveaways

The Bristol Book Blog is currently running two book giveaways.

You can snag a copy of Ellen Allen's The Sham -

Ellen shared her playlist with us at the Blog with key songs at key moments and has kindly provided some books for a giveaway (ebook, any format) - All you have to do to snag a copy is provide the book blog with your reading playlist - do you read to music? if so what do you listen to? The most interesting, entertaining replies will receive a copy of the book (10 copies in total):

AND you can also get a copy of Andrew Goodman's Oliver Drummond and the four horsemen -

Tiberius Found,young adult fiction,YA fiction, YA action adventure

All you need to enter is to name the four Horsemen in the comments on the link above! Names will be drawn from a hat in two weeks time.

Thursday 30 October 2014

Interview with Andrew Goodman

Today's guest is Andrew Goodman who is now onto his second series of books since we last spoke to him.

Andrew Goodman,young adult, fiction, YA, action, adventure

Hello, my name is Andrew and I write stories for young adults. It's been seventeen minutes since my last writing session.

Actually, I'm not only a writer of novels but also short stories and short- & feature-length screenplays – I was a semi-finalist in the 2009 British Short Screenplay Competition and was commissioned to write a 90-minute feature in 2012 for SeeView Pictures.

Tiberius Found and Tiberius Bound wee my first novels published in paperback and ebook formats, and are the initial two books book of a three-part series: The Emperor Initiative, with final subsequent instalment to be released in 2015. October 2014 will also see the release of my first “Oliver Drummond” supernatural adventure novels set in the 1920s: Oliver Drummond and The Four Horsemen, which sees schoolboy Oliver ‘Bulldog’ Drummond pitting his wits against occult groups, ghosts, murderers and traitors who want to gain control over the horseshoes from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

You can read my Blog here.

For anyone that hasnt read them can you tell us a bit about your books?

I write action/adventure novels for the Young Adult market, although it seems that most of my readership passed through the target demographic of 12-18 many years ago! My first two books are parts one and two in a three-part series called The Emperor Initiative which sees a 16-year-old boy on the run from a group of scientists who want to finish the job they started when he was born.
The series is set in the near future (2028) and follows Daniel Henstock as he discovers he’s been genetically engineered – assigned the codename Tiberius – and has to flee the country to save himself. He goes to America, intent on unearthing the truth about his origins, but only succeeds in putting more people in danger. The Initiative, however, don’t easily give up and he decides to take the fight to them when they abduct and threaten the life of the only person he knows he can trust.
The three books in the series – Tiberius Found, Tiberius Bound and Tiberius Crowned – see Daniel unsure of whom he can trust, learning skills and abilities he never thought possible, suffer terrible hurt and loss, fall in love, and come face-to-face with the person at the top of the food chain responsible for his origins. Bit of a roller coaster, for the young man.

Tell us a bit more about the last book you wrote

My latest book – Oliver Drummond and The Four Horsemen – is a period adventure, set in 1926, and follows schoolboy Oliver ‘Bulldog’ Drummond as he becomes involved in the mysterious death of a government scientist. He quickly learns that all is not as it seems. The discovery of three horseshoes from The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse leads to a race to unearth the final artifact, and Oliver is determined to not let them fall into the wrong hands. If he fails then the Horsemen will be unleashed upon the world and under the control of a man hell-bent on dominion.
He comes face-to-face with ghosts, traitors, murderers and people who have no qualms to kill and torture to fulfill their ambitions. Not to mention meeting the Horsemen themselves. And those strange feelings he has for a girl, in the pit of his stomach, doesn’t help matters…
The novel is the first in a planned series of ‘Oliver Drummond’ adventures with the next already well into the planning stage.

Tiberius Found,young adult fiction,YA fiction, YA action adventure

What did you learn about writing whilst writing the last book you wrote?
How much fun the lack of technology for my characters could be! When they’re in danger they can’t simply get on their mobile and summon help. I found the world of post-World War One a great time – Europe was still re-building even eight years after the War, and suspicion and intrigue was rife. Science was still in its infancy and it was a time of discovery and doubt. Great elements for a supernatural adventure!

Do you have a set writing process, if so what is it?
I like to spend a lot of time planning and blocking a story out. I know that this process doesn’t work for everyone but I find the blocks as stepping-stones that help keep me on track. That doesn’t mean I have to follow them rigidly if I think of something better during the writing process.
When I’m in the writing stage, I write. At any time available. Once the first draft is finished I leave it for a few weeks before moving onto the editing stages and do however many edits I feel necessary to make it as good as it can be. If, at that point, I’m engaging a professional editor then I’d send it off and await for the shredding to begin…
Once I've got the finished work, I format into eBook and print versions, get the artwork sorted through third parties, and get ready for publication. Simple.

Do you write a lot of short stories?
I used to. I think it was part of the learning process, of how to write stories. A novel can be quite a daunting thought but a few thousand words are much more achievable for a person starting to write. That’s not to say short stories are an easy option, often the opposite is true. You have far fewer words to bring a convincing story to a satisfactory conclusion that means you can’t have any fat.

Do you prefer the long or short form? How do you feel about Flash Fiction?
I prefer writing novels, these days. Although, if the mood takes me then a short story can keep the juices flowing nicely. Flash fiction is great! Love it. Very, very difficult to do well and there are even fewer words to play with. I was very happy in the summer to win the BeaconLit Writing Festival flash fiction competition, which had a 150-word limit.

Which character in your books do you most identify with and why?
I really like Miles Brennan (in the Tiberius novels) and James Burghley (Oliver’s uncle).
We’re never really sure if Brennan is someone who can be trusted and he’s keeping so many secrets that I’m not sure if he even knows the answer! In my dream film cast list I’d have Gerard Butler play him. Anyone know Gerard who can suggest this?
James Burghley is a man in his thirties who wants fun and adventure in his life, and who, too, has lots of secrets. He’s quite laid back, with a quirky sense of humour, but when the situation demands is prepared to stand up and be counted

Which bit of your writing are you most proud of?
I like to include a touch of humour to my writing, but without making it too obvious. I love it when a situation creates itself and a punch-line or quip neatly presents itself.
However, the first time I saw one of my books in print format was amazing. An eBook is ok, but holding that paperback the first time was a special moment.

Tell us a bit about how you got published? Did you go via a slush pile? Get an agent before a publisher?

I decided to follow my usual route of Amazon self-publishing with ‘Oliver…’ although I have submitted it to a few agents just to see what the waters are like. I used the Kindle Direct Publishing platform (for the eBook version) and its sister company CreateSpace (for the print/paperback version), as I did for for my other previous novels, and find the process quick and easy to follow.

There are a number of idiosyncrasies specific to each of the above publishing platforms but I've got through the growling-at-the-computer-screen phase and know what I need to do now, to make the job as quick and easy as it can be.

The world of publishing is still changing, and will continue to do so for a while yet, and there is no shame in self-publishing these days, as long as your work is of the highest possible standard.

In one sentence what is your best piece of advice for new writers?
Keep reading, keep writing, be open to constructive criticism and develop a very, very thick skin.
Don’t be too precious about your work, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

OK, So not quite one sentence…


Andrew has very kindly provided three copies of the latest book - Oliver Drummond and the Four Horsemen as a give away (ebook, any format). All you need to enter is to name the four Horsemen in the comments below! Names will be drawn from a hat in two weeks time.

BristolCon 2014

BristolCon continues to be one of my favourite Cons. It's perfectly formed and extremely well run. I moderated a panel, appeared on a panel, did a reading, went to a workshop, watched a bad film, rooted out werewolves in the games room, played cards against humanity, said hello to a lot of folk I've come to know over the past couple of years, performed at the open mic and made new friends. Phew! (But I got very few photographs!)

As well as spending a lot of time in the art room chatting with the guys from Wyrmwick

And time in the bar.

There was a very entertaining open-mic the evening before where I read my story - "Spin, spin, spin the Wheels of Justice." from the collection "Thunder & Magpies" (currently I'm biting my nails waiting to see if the publisher I sent it to will make an offer - this was the latest message I saw - "Just a small FYI. If you've subbed to Kristell Ink or Grimbold Grimkins and not yet heard, then your manuscript is being carefully considered. We're down to the 'oh-my-gosh-these-are-good-why-can't-we-have-them-all' part of the acquisition process.")

Many thanks to John Courtney GrimwoodMike ShevdonSarah Ash & Jacey Bedford for being great panellists on the "Writing Historical Fantasy" panel. We discussed lots of interesting stuff - first experiences of historical fantasy, attractions of particular time periods, research (don't we all want to learn North African cooking in Africa now that Mr Grimwood said that was part of his research for his Fellaheen books!)

I didn't get time to ask about how to get into pre-20th Century mindsets or how alternative does adding magic to history make history (if we can teleport do we need to invent cars, trains and planes?). I also wanted to ask what periods had been done to death and what were under-explored and of the disneyfication of history. Ah well next time!

I very much enjoyed the Discoverability panel and nice to see Spacewitch represented on the panel. They discussed the Amazon effect, women's discoverability (a particular bugbear of Emma Newman) and there was a general consensus that book bloggers help, but have a limited audience, and that there needs to be a level of curation rather than algorithms that only work at scale.

I went to the "Common writing problems Q&A" where Snorri Kristjansson gave us an interesting and entertaining analogy between writing and making a chair. If your chair has a big spike in the middle it may not be the best chair ever made, if it's green some people may like green or may not but it doesn't mean it's a badly made chair. Perhaps you had to be there! There was also a fascinating discussion about writer's block by Gareth L Powell 

After an irritating lunchtime (The cafe under St Mary Redcliffe - got meals wrong, spent a long time to serve us etc) I spent a useful hour in the company with Jacey Bedford in the "How to get an agent" workshop. Lots of great advice and places to look like Miss Snark & Pubrants amongst others. I came away with a handout and the beginnings of a plan.

Other panel highlight was "Sex or Death" where Kevlin Henney had a bunch of statistics from his around 100 short stories. Overall outcome? We are more afraid of putting sex in stories than we are death. After the panel Stark Holborn roped Snorri Kristjansson into helping her do a reading by reading one half of the dialogue. That worked really well and I may steal, sorry borrow,  the idea in the future!

The only other reading I managed to catch was Roz Clarke even after promising myself I'd get to more this year. I'm not sure about readings at Cons, they don't appear to work very well, but I'm not sure what the fix is. The only time I've seen full readings of, let's say less well known names, is at 9 worlds with their "New Voices" where each writer probably brings in a couple of people.

I also appeared on a panel - but wasn't hugely happy with my performance, I think I do better as a moderator than a guest. It was well moderated by Pete Newman and was about "Writing Non-human characters." I did manage to crowbar a reference to the Fundsurfer in though.

I also did a reading from "Seven Deadly Swords" my novel that is out with beta readers currently. It seemed to go down well to the few people that turned up.

The evening was spent in socialising, gaming and watching "The Uninvited" a film shown by the fantastic Bristol Bad Film Club which is about a cat that's escaped from a genetic research lab and is taken aboard a yacht bound for the Cayman islands. Needless to say it runs amok. Bonkers plot, "special" special effects and "interesting" acting. A good laugh. I hope BristolCon invite the Bad film club guys back next year too.

I had a fantastic time and will definitely be going next year. How do they fit so much awesome into one day?

Monday 27 October 2014

The Sham - Book Giveaway

Here at BRSBKBLOG we are very lucky to have a brilliant book giveaway for new YA thriller - The Sham by Ellen Allen

Ellen has loved reading ever since she was tiny and discovered Enid Blyton in a corner of her classroom - The Magic Faraway Tree, anyone? She later went on to develop a trilogy to rival Tolkien, based on The Hobbit (er, only it wasn't quite as good!). 

As a grown up, her dream is to see her book in a book shop or to read a good review that some kind soul has left online for others to read. She lives in the south of France with her small daughter and would, one day, like to be able to master the French subjunctive. 

Author of new YA novel The Sham, a keen outdoor swimmer (whatever the weather), an avid reader and she also likes to collect quotes, articles, tips etc. on how to write, submit & publish really good fiction.

Find Ellen on the web here: and Twitter here: @Ellenwritesall

Eighteen-year-old Emily Heath would love to leave her dead-end town, known locally as “The Sham”, with her boyfriend, Jack, but he’s very, very sick; his body is failing and his brain is shutting down. He’s also in hiding, under suspicion of murder. Six months’ ago, strange signs were painted across town in a dialect no one has spoken for decades and one of Emily’s classmates washed up in the local floods.
Emily has never trusted her instincts and now they’re pulling her towards Jack, who the police think is a sham himself, someone else entirely. As the town wakes to discover new signs plastered across its walls, Emily must decide who and what she trusts, and fast: local vigilantes are hunting Jack; the floods, the police, and her parents are blocking her path; and the town doesn’t need another dead body.

**This book is unsuitable for younger readers; it contains discussions about murder scenes, conversations about sex and profanity.

Ellen shared her playlist with us at the Blog with key songs at key moments and has kindly provided some books for a giveaway (ebook, any format) - All you have to do to snag a copy is provide the book blog with your reading playlist - do you read to music? if so what do you listen to? The most interesting, entertaining replies will receive a copy of the book (10 copies in total):

The Sham's playlist - possible spoilers (click on it to view full size & reveal)

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Review - David Gullen's Open Waters

Open Waters

Mr Gullen has collected together 11 stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies (and 5 that haven’t) into this, his first short story collection. The earliest published in 1998, the latest in 2011. It’s a wide mix of speculative stories of varying length, a few flash, a few longer pieces, many in between. With the majority of stories Gullen explains the genesis, with many stemming from challenges created by the T party, the writing group Mr Gullen is part of. 

There is a lot to like in here and the quality is, in the main, very high. I dipped in and out in between other projects - my own writing and reading for reviews. The first and last stories are very good, both about war, a subject Gullen tells us he often writes about, – the first a ‘what if’, what if the invasion by tourists every year was just that, an invasion, this one stuck with me long after reading it. The last with humanity getting caught up in a galactic war as auxillaries and a small army of humans are abandoned on an alien world and left to conquer it. I was also taken by Gullen’s re-imagining of the lady in the lake in Come the Hour which, he tells us, had a rejection because the editor thought her readers would like to keep their lunches, which Gullen takes as a compliment. My favourite though must be Fade a post-apocalyptic story about us and Them and the Difference, one of those stories that lights up the creative part of your brain and therefore makes the world contained seem much larger than what is on the page. I wish I’d written something as cool as this story. There were a few misses, not poorly written, just didn’t do it for me, but that’s natural in any collection, but they were very few.

These are stories about war, about relationships, about humans, sometimes in alien situations. It is a collection with heart and imagination. Besides, where else would you go for your walrus porn and cowboy Cthulhu erotica?

Overall – An excellent read, recommended.

Tuesday 21 October 2014

North by Southwest


Our Fundsurfer is now live - Please log in and pledge for your great rewards!

Since earlier this year I've been working on an anthology - the North Bristol Writers have got together to create a whole bunch of new stories and it's almost time that they were committed to paper.

There are 10 writers, 1 fantastic artist and 1 brilliant editor ready to turn a whole bunch of words into a living breathing book.

But we need cash to make it a reality and so we're launching a Fundsurfer. What's Fundsurfer? It's a crowdfunding platform, not just any crowdfunding platform though because these boys are based in Bristol.

If you're going to help fund this you'll have to register an account.

And we've been in to meet them & discuss the project and they've been super helpful every step of the way since we decided to go down the crowdfunding route.

At BristolCon we'll be launching the Fundsurfer and you will be able to throw all your money at us in return for a variety of cool rewards. I'll do an update post when we go live. And, no doubt throughout the process. With updates to the crowdfunding, cover reveals, cover blurbs, early reviews etc.

This is my first foray into crowdfunding and I'm not sure what to expect - will people flock or flee?

Anyhow - I'd like to publicly thank Richard Jones from Tangent books who will do the magic publishing bit once we have typeset the book. Joanne Hall (@Hierath) for stepping in to wrangle the wordage. Claire M Hutt (@clairedreams99) for providing lots of wonderful art, and excellent advice.

And, of course, my fellow writers - Jemma Milburn, Clare Dornan, Ian Millsted, Kevlin Henney, Margaret Carruthers, Roz Clarke, John Hawks-Reed, Desiree Fischer  & Justin Newland

Interview with Judy Darley

Today Judy Darley has dropped in to talk about her writing

Judy Darley is a British fiction writer, writing tutor and journalist. She’s had short stories, flashes and poetry published by literary magazine and anthologies including Germ Magazine, Litro, Riptide Journal, and The View From Here. Judy’s debut short story collection ‘Remember Me To The Bees’ is out now. She blogs at and tweets at

Monday 20 October 2014

Interview with Jacey Bedford

Jacey dropped in to the blog to talk about her writing -

Jacey Bedford lives behind a desk in Pennine Yorkshire. She's been a librarian, a postmistress and (for 20 years) a singer with internationally touring a cappella trio, Artisan. She's had short stories published on both sides of the Atlantic in anthologies and magazines before getting a book deal with DAW in the USA for three novels. She's one of the organisers of the annual Milford SF Writers' Conference and the Northwrite SF writers group.

She's a fairly recent convert to conventions, though this year has been busy with Eastercon, Worldcon in London and Fantasycon in York. She'll be at Bristolcon for the first time in October and returning to Novacon in Nottingham in November.

Monday 13 October 2014

Literary festivities

So the weekend just past was the cut down, compact & bijou Bristol Festival of Literature 2014


We did some things in association with Yardstick:

First up, for me, was a visit to the RWA where there was music & dance, poetry and art -

There was more poetry later on Friday but I missed it.

On Saturday I was at Foyles for the Southville Writers Books are my Bag event

Which had a very full, varied & interesting program of poetry, flash, short stories and workshops. Well done to the organisers for an enjoyable few hours rubbing shoulders with other Bristol writerly types.

Then Saturday night was the BFL Speakeasy Featuring Jamaican poets Mervyn Morris (Poet Laureate), Mel Cooke, Yashika Graham and Richard “Dingo” Dingwall. Bristol’s writing talent was represented by Milo Chambers, Sarah Hilary, Mike Manson, Anna Freeman and Vanessa Kisuule.

Which went really well and gave each of the visiting Jamaican poets a really good slot to showcase their poetry.My favourite performer of the night though was Ann Freeman who eschewed reading from her novel and regaled us with some of her own poetry instead.

Finally I picked up 50 goodie bags from Forbidden Planet for Super Comic Sunday

This was ably hosted by Cavan Scott, Huw Powell and Ian Millstead and we filled the top of the MShed with a host of happy families.

Where the kids got to create a crazy comic characrer, learn how to be a space pirate and meet a bunch of comics creators. 

One of the crazy characters. Great fun was had by all.

Saturday 11 October 2014

Jennifer Williams interview

Today Jennifer Williams dropped in to talk about here writing.

Jennifer is a writer from London who writes character driven fantasy books, often with lots of peril and banter. She also have an unhealthy obsession with Bioware games, enjoys a glass of mead, and writes the occasional film review. Her first book, THE COPPER PROMISE, is out now from Headline books, with the sequel, THE IRON GHOST, to follow in February 2015.

Find her on twitter- @sennydreadful & at her website:


For anyone that hasn’t read them can you tell us a bit about your books

THE COPPER PROMISE, and its sequel, THE IRON GHOST, are epic fantasy books with a strong leaning towards sword and sorcery: there’s definitely a world-threatening disaster looming here, but my sellsword characters aren’t sure they’re being paid enough to deal with it.


There are some tall stories about the caverns beneath the Citadel - about magic and mages and monsters and gods.

Wydrin of Crosshaven has heard them all, but she's spent long enough trawling caverns and taverns with her companion Sir Sebastian to learn that there's no money to be made in chasing rumours. But then a crippled nobleman with a dead man's name offers them a job: exploring the Citadel's darkest depths. It sounds like just another quest with gold and adventure ... if they're lucky, they might even have a tale of their own to tell once it's over.

These reckless adventurers will soon learn that sometimes there is truth in rumour. Sometimes a story can save your life.

posting cover

Tell us a bit more about the last book you wrote

The last book I wrote was THE IRON GHOST, which follows on from the end of THE COPPER PROMISE, so without getting into spoilers, expect more adventure, mayhem, and angry gods.

The blurb for THE IRON GHOST

Beware the dawning of a new mage...

Wydrin of Crosshaven, Sir Sebastian and Lord Aaron Frith are experienced in the perils of stirring up the old gods. They are also familiar with defeating them, and the heroes of Baneswatch are now enjoying the perks of suddenly being very much in demand for their services.

When a job comes up in the distant city of Skaldshollow, it looks like easy coin - retrieve a stolen item, admire the views, get paid. But in a place twisted and haunted by ancient magic, with the most infamous mage of them all, Joah Demonsworn, making a reappearance, our heroes soon find themselves threatened by enemies on all sides, old and new. And in the frozen mountains, the stones are walking...

IronGhost_v2 jpg jpg
What did you learn about writing whilst writing the last book you wrote?

Writing THE IRON GHOST was a new experience. Books I’d written previously, including THE COPPER PROMISE, were written to my own schedule in the cosy assumption that I’d probably be the only person to ever read them. Now, I was writing to a deadline for a real publisher, with a contract and everything. Suddenly the whole process was a lot scarier, and a lot more pressurised. “Ye gods,” I thought to myself, “people will actually read this. People will be paying money for it.” There followed a short period of panic and stress-eating, where I threw out notes repeatedly and started the book from scratch twice. Thankfully I got over that reasonably quickly and threw myself back in. I think every book is a learning experience, and perhaps the first one you write entirely under contract is a learning experience in a very specific way – I learnt that you have to be brave, and you can’t be afraid of the blank page.

Do you have a set writing process, if so what is it?

When I write a book I use a mixture of plotting and “making it up as you go along”. So usually I will start with characters – all of my books are very character driven – and I will make lots of notes on who they are and what makes them tick. Then I will get my corkboard out and start pinning up different odds and ends: what do I want to see in this book? What relationships will change and move forward? What sort of monsters/what sort of magic? The story emerges out of that, and once I have the basic framework I will refine it a few times, usually getting the whole thing down to a handful of notecards, and then we’re off. I don’t like to have everything set in stone at that stage, because I want the freedom to be able to follow where the book takes me as the story evolves.

The actual physical writing tends to happen in the evening, after work, or in big chunks at the weekend. I try to have my head in the book at least once a day, every day.

Do you write a lot of short stories?

The truthful answer to this is that I used to! These days I don’t have as much time, but a few years ago I went through a period of writing lots of short stories – mainly horror or dark fantasy. I was the editor of Dark Fiction Magazine for a while too, and was pleased to give a few great short stories an audio home.

Do you prefer the long or short form? How do you feel about Flash Fiction?

I think a well-written short story is a particularly delicious treat, and writing them well requires a special kind of discipline and skill. I suspect that these days my heart belongs to the novel, but one of the proudest moments in my writing career was seeing my flash fiction short THE PRICE published in Black Static magazine.

Which character in your books do you most identify with and why?

Ah, this is tough. I see tiny bits of myself in all three of my main characters; Wydrin and I share a sense of humour and a fear of responsibility, while Sebastian’s somewhat unyielding moral core is something I identify with strongly (when all my school friends were skipping train fares, I was the one who insisted on buying a ticket). I also have a bad temper, so writing Lord Frith’s angrier moments are a lot of fun.

Which bit of your writing are you most proud of?

To be honest, I’m proud to have a book out there at all – it always felt like such a wild dream, and it’s still difficult to comprehend that THE COPPER PROMISE is out in the world, in bookshops and in reader’s hands. In terms of specific writing, there is a subplot in the first book that started off as a throwaway idea and became something very important to the series as a whole. The big bad Dragon god Y’Ruen has an army of dragon-daughters, a bunch of minions to do her dirty work on the ground while she deals death and destruction elsewhere. It was when I started to ask myself questions about these minions – are they inherently evil? What would happen if something caused them to start acting like individuals? – that a big portion of the series’ soul was revealed to me. I’m quite proud of how that turned out.

Tell us a bit about how you got published? Did you go via a slush pile? Get an agent before a publisher?

My path to being published was a little odd, I suppose. Originally I wrote a short novella called THE COPPER PROMISE: GHOSTS OF THE CITADEL, which I self-published as a bit of an experiment. It had some favourable feedback, and a few people asked to see the complete manuscript. In the end, GHOSTS OF THE CITADEL became the opening section of a much larger book, and luckily for me the wonderful agent (and karaoke demon) Julie Mushens signed me up. Shortly after that the book was picked up by Headline, and I spent the next couple of months in shock.

In one sentence what is your best piece of advice for new writers?

Don’t listen too closely to writing advice.


Many Thanks to Jen for providing interesting answers to our Bristol Book Blog questions!

Friday 10 October 2014

DJ Donaldson interview

D.J. (Don) Donaldson is a retired medical school professor.  Born and raised in Ohio, he obtained a Ph.D. in human anatomy at Tulane, then spent his entire academic career at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis.  In addition to being the author of several dozen scientific articles on wound healing, he has written seven forensic mysteries and five medical thrillers.

What inspired you to start writing, and when?

Oddly, the thought that I wanted to become a novelist just popped into my head one day shortly after my fiftieth birthday.  Part of this sudden desire was a bit of boredom with my real job.  I was an anatomy professor at the U. of Tennessee and had accomplished all my major professional goals: course director, funded NIH grant, teaching awards, and many published papers on wound healing.  So I guess I needed a new challenge. And boy did I pick a tough one. 

I wondered, how does a novice like me learn to write fiction? Taking a few writing courses is an obvious answer. But I had the vague feeling that there were a lot of unpublished writers teaching those courses and I worried that all I’d learn was how to fail.  I’m not saying this was the best way, but I decided to just teach myself.  I bought ten bestselling novels and tried to figure out what made each of them work. What tricks were the authors using to hold my attention?  What made these books so popular?  In a sense then, maybe I didn’t teach myself.  Maybe Steven King, Robin Cook, Pat Conroy, Michael Palmer, Larry McMurtry, and James Michener did.  In any event, eight years later, I sold my first book.  So, it took me about as long to become a published novelist as it did to train for medical research and teaching.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

There’s nothing easy about any of it. But titles are a particular challenge.  I often can’t figure out what the title of a book should be.  Oh, I know when a title is great and so do you… It’s like the dealer at a flea market who once said to me when I picked up an expensive item to look at more closely…”You have good taste.”  Then, while I was secretly preening at his compliment, he added,  “Of course, it’s not that hard to spot quality.”   It’s the same with book titles.  Here’s a test:  What do you think of this title?  They don’t build statues to businessmen.

To me, it’s awful.  I’d think so even if I’d been the one to come up with it.  Actually, it was the famous writer, Jacqueline Susann, who crafted that one for a book that eventually became a mega best seller as Valley of the dolls.  Could there be anybody who likes the first title better?  Okay…. there’s always someone who enjoys being a contrarian.  But that still doesn’t make the first title any good.

Let’s try another.  How about All’s well that ends well?  That’s actually not horrible.  But it doesn’t sound like the sweeping saga the author wrote.  I certainly think the title it was eventually given, War and Peace, is far better.

So, it’s easy to know a great title when you see it, but boy is it hard to come up with one, especially when you’re writing a New Orleans series that needs to have a title that reflects the locale.  I usually sit for hours playing with words and rearranging them in what I hope are creative ways.  No matter what title I eventually settle on for a book, I have this nagging suspicion that even if I really like the one I pick, there was a much better one I could have used.  I just couldn’t find it.  My War and Peace was out there, just beyond reach. 

Of all my New Orleans books, I’m the most satisfied with the title for Louisiana Fever. Although the title doesn’t specifically mention New Orleans, it lets readers know a lot about the locale. It also strongly suggests that the story involves some kind of contagious disease.  The fever part of the title actually refers to Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, a bleeding disease similar to Ebola. Most writers would be thrilled to have written a book that could be related to unfolding world events.  Normally, I’d be among them.  But in this case, I’d much prefer that there be no reason for Ebola to be in the news every day. I hope this threat is contained soon.

For anyone that hasn’t read them can you tell us a bit about your books

My first book was a mystery.  As a beginning writer, that seemed like the best genre for me because mysteries have a classic structure that guides the behaviour and direction of the main characters. In a very general way that structure provides those characters with goals and motivation: Goal: find the killer.  Motivation:  It’s their job. The genre also provides a structure for conflict:  The killer doesn’t want to be found, so he will try to thwart the investigation.  I had no idea that my first book would lead to six more with the same characters.
After six series mysteries I took a break to try my hand at writing stand-alone thrillers.  (Stand-alones have a different cast of characters in each book.)  Someone once asked me what the difference is between a mystery and a thriller. There can be a lot of overlap in the two, but generally thrillers put the main character in danger throughout the book. In mysteries, the danger often arises only when the protagonist begins to close in on the killer.
I have to say I like series and stand alones equally well.  If you look at my list of published novels (seven forensic mysteries and five medical thrillers), it’s obvious that I’ve drawn on my academic background to write both kinds of books. They say to “write what you know”, and I have.  Except that for every book, It’s taken about six months of intensive research to learn a lot of necessary material, both scientific and otherwise, that I didn’t know when I started the book. That research has been a lot of fun.  For one book, I spent a week in Madison Wisconsin, visiting dairy farms ... even had a milk cow poop on my shoes. (Okay, I didn’t like that part much.)

What are you working on now (apart from this interview of course)?

I’ve always wanted my books to be available on audio.  I’m excited to tell you that my entire New Orleans forensic mystery series is now in production with Audible books. I haven’t yet heard any of it, so I’m really looking forward to listening to what they’ve done.  The narrator is Brian Troxell, who has narrated about 75 other books for Audible. I’ve listened to some of those and I think he’s going to do a great job. When he asked me for some hints about how to portray Broussard, the greatly overweight New Orleans medical examiner, I told him to think of the character actor, Wilfred Brimley.  From the moment I wrote the first words about Broussard I pictured him being played in film by Brimley. 
In one sentence what is your best piece of advice for new writers?
Write because you love it. 
Don’t write for wealth or fame because most writers in the world, even those who have sold books to major publishers, can’t claim either of those status symbols.  There’s an old quote that says, “You can get rich in this country by being a writer, but you can’t make a living.”  If you don’t love doing it then you can be crushed by the difficulties inherent in the pursuit. 

Thursday 9 October 2014

Laure Eve Interview

Today Laure Eve dropped by to discuss her writing

Laure Eve is a French-British hybrid who grew up in Cornwall, a place saturated with myth and fantasy. She speaks English and French, and can hold a vague conversation, usually about food, in Greek.

A few things she loves: Haagen Dazs cookie dough ice cream, Jean Claude van Damme, David Lynch, pretty much any version of Dracula ever. Also books, cake, films and shoes.

I asked Laure a whole bunch of Bristol Book Blog questions

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Alistair Rennie interview

Today Alistair Rennie has dropped by the blog to talk about his writing & other topics.

Alistair Rennie was born in the North of Scotland, lived for ten years in Italy, and now lives in the South of Scotland in Edinburgh. He holds a first class Honours Degree in Literature from the University of Aberdeen and a PhD in Literature from the University of Edinburgh.

Rennie has published fantasy and horror fiction, essays and poetry in The New Weird anthology, Weird Tales magazine, Fabulous Whitby, Electric Velocipede, Mythic Delirium, Pevnost, Schlock Magazine, Horror Without Victims, Weird Fiction Review and Shadowed Realms.

Alistair can be found at :

I asked Alistair a whole bunch of usual Bristol Book Blog questions - 

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Sibilant Fricative Review

Sibilant Fricative by Adam Roberts

Sibilant Fricative by Adam Roberts

How could a book reviewer resist this collection? Adam Roberts, the author of e.g. Yellow blue tibia (which I reviewed previously) and By light alone also writes reviews, and pulls no punches. In this collection of reviews and essays of SF (Sibilant & Fricative respectively) he casts his eye over a variety of books and films. I confess to reading the reviews completely out of order, going through the ones of books and films I had already seen and some I had reviewed myself. This was to get a “baseline” for the books and films I’ve not yet got to so that I know what Roberts likes and doesn't and where he agrees and disagrees with me so that I can see what I need to add to the TBR & TBW piles.

He reviews PKD, Ballard, Pynchon, Mieville, Bova and many others in the SF section, as well as Star Trek & District 9 films and Tolkein, Le Guin, Rothfuss and notably all of the Wheel of Time in the Fantasy section. He reviews with great insight, sly humour and occasionally in the style of the book he is reviewing. The vast majority of the reviews are very entertaining and some are thought provoking, the best are both. For example Roberts sets himself the task to review The Wheel of Time which starts better than he expected but then rapidly becomes a massive chore. Along the way we get a class on how to write well, and why Jordan doesn't and thoughts about epic fantasy, fandom and a brief meta discussion about reviews. This, in addition to the essay on the “Two Hobbits” is worth the entry ticket alone, and there is so much more entertainment within.

I started keeping note of some of the more out-leap-y examples of WoT-style … But after 120-pages of this I exhausted the patience necessary to interrupt my reading with jotting examples down in my notebook. I wanted to get through the damn thing as soon as possible. That’s not to say that the writing gets any better, for it does not

If you like reading reviews – and you must do if you’re reading this one right? Then I highly recommend this collection to you.

Overall –Erudite, entertaining, intelligent collection of essays and reviews.

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