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Tuesday 24 May 2016

SPIRIT OF PLACE - an interview with Shani Struthers

Today I'm thrilled to welcome the fabulous Shani Struthers to my blog.  Shani (it's pronounced to rhyme with "brainy" - and the resemblance doesn't end there!) is the author of the Psychic Surveys series of paranormal novels, the latest of which - 44 Gilmore Street - is released this coming Friday.

Welcome, Shani!

What prompted you to first start writing? What was the first thing you wrote?

I’ve always written and became a freelance copywriter for the travel industry two years after leaving university – a job I still do. The first novel, however, was around four years ago and it was a romance called The Runaway Year, about three friends and their varied love lives set in the stunning surrounds of North Cornwall. Much to my surprise I got several offers of publication for that book and added a second to it, The Runaway Ex and a third, The Return. And then… I changed tack completely! I loved writing romance but my heart has always belonged to the paranormal and so, two years ago, I penned Psychic Surveys Book One: The Haunting of Highdown Hall, which become an Amazon bestseller!

Can you summarise your latest work in just a few words?

44 Gilmore Street is the third book in a series of six concerning high street consultancy, Psychic Surveys, who specialise in domestic spiritual cleansing. Having problems of a ghostly nature in your house? It’s this team of freelance psychics, spearheaded by Ruby Davis you’re going to want to call! Rather than horror, each one is a paranormal mystery but the books do get darker.

What was the inspiration for this book?

A real-life business idea! My husband Rob is a Structural Engineer and on occasion, when called out to survey houses that people are moving into, he’s been asked by the client ‘do you think this house is okay, you know, you don’t think it’s haunted or anything?’ One day he replied that he did think the house he was surveying was haunted; there was a really bad feeling in one of the bedrooms. The client thought so too and was worried by it. When they moved in her son was supposed to sleep in that room but he refused. 

Calling Rob back to do some more work, she mentioned it to him and, it just so happens, that my mother has undertaken spiritual cleansing of rooms utilising purely holistic methods (ie Reiki and crystals). Rob offered her services, the woman accepted and Mum and her friend went along to tune-in. They got the impression someone had died there and carried out the usual psychic cleansing routine and all was well after that, the boy slept happily in his new room. Intrigued, the owner delved deeper into the history of the house and sadly, there had been a suicide there with negative residue perhaps lingering. 

Regarding making it a real business, it’s an ethical minefield, so I’ve taken the idea and reworked it in fiction instead!

Did you do any research for the book?

I know lots about the psychic world because of Mum; she’s had a life-long interest in it so I’ve been brought up with her talking about it. As a result, I see the paranormal as something completely normal, after all, why shouldn’t a spiritual world exist alongside our material one? It just makes sense to me. But yes, I do research as well, usually pointed in the right direction by Mum!

Do you plot your novels in advance, or allow them to develop as you write?

I have tried to plot them in advance but it just doesn’t work for me – the characters take on a life of their own and, in the end, write the novel for me. Trusting in them and the muse, I let them get on with it! Sometimes I do wish I could plot a bit more, it agitates me sometimes not knowing where it’s going but then it’s exciting too!

Which writers have influenced your own writing?

Just lately, Shirley Jackson who wrote The Haunting of Hill House – that book is a real lesson is less is more. Whilst writing Book One of my new series – This Haunted World Book One: The Venetian – I really tried to employ that ethos. I also love Susan Hill’s paranormal novellas, particularly The Woman in Black.

What can we expect from you in the future?

There’ll be three more in the Psychic Surveys series, another Christmas ghost novella and the launch of This Haunted World Book One: The Venetian, which is the first in a series of standalone novels set in and around the world’s most haunted places and mixing fact with fiction. The Venetian is set between Venice and Poveglia, the latter the ‘world’s most haunted island’.

More about 44 Gilmore Street:
“We all have to face our demons at some point.”

Psychic Surveys – specialists in domestic spiritual clearance – have never been busier. Although exhausted, Ruby is pleased. Her track record as well as her down-to-earth, no-nonsense approach inspires faith in the haunted, who willingly call on her high street consultancy when the supernatural takes hold.

But that’s all about to change.

Two cases prove trying: 44 Gilmore Street, home to a particularly violent spirit, and the reincarnation case of Elisha Grey. When Gilmore Street attracts press attention, matters quickly deteriorate. Dubbed the ‘New Enfield’, the ‘Ghost of Gilmore Street’ inflames public imagination, but as Ruby and the team fail repeatedly to evict the entity, faith in them wavers.

Dealing with negative press, the strangeness surrounding Elisha, and a spirit that’s becoming increasingly territorial, Ruby’s at breaking point. So much is pushing her towards the abyss, not least her own past. It seems some demons just won’t let go…

Psychic Surveys Book Three: 44 Gilmore Street

More about Shani:

I write ghost stories – vampires, werewolves and shape shifters need not apply! Influences include the great Shirley Jackson, Anne Rice, Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I’m also a mum of three children, and live in the funky city of Brighton with them, my husband and four mad cats. I’ve always loved reading and writing but occasionally I venture outdoors on sunny days and walk in the stunning green downs that surround us. Other pastimes include hanging out with friends and just having fun – life’s too short not to.

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Friday 20 May 2016

SHARING SECRETS - an interview with Sally Quilford

Today I'm thrilled to welcome a very special guest to my blog.  Sally Quilford, the author of more than 20 novels, is the lady who taught me everything I know about writing romantic fiction.  Our paths first crossed a few years ago, when I signed up for one of her online workshops.  One of the results of that workshop was my novel Nice Girls Don't, and another was Miriam Drori's novel Neither Here Nor There - both of which went on to be published by Crooked Cat Publishing.  

Since then Sally and I have become firm friends, and she has continue to produce high-quality novels at a formidable rate (I wish I had a fraction of her productivity!), and today sees the launch of her latest work, The Secret of Lakeham Abbey, also published by Crooked Cat Publishing.

Welcome, Sally!  Tell me: what prompted you to first start writing? What was the first thing you wrote?

I’d always had some vague notion that I wanted to be a writer, but without ever having put pen to paper. I can’t pretend I was jotting down stories from the age of 3. I was something of a dreamer as a child, so the stories were all there in my head, usually with me as the heroine. I could quite happily get lost in my dream world for hours and hours, even when I was older and had my own children.

I was in my early thirties when I first started to write. I can’t remember the exact first thing I wrote, though the first thing I do remember clearly is a skit I wrote for my GCSE Literature class about the day in the life of an adult learner. My tutor was so impressed she arranged to have it published in a local adult education newsletter. I started by writing a lot of poetry, pouring out my angst onto paper. The same with my first novels. They always had a heroine who was very much me, with the same life experiences, particularly in childhood. I think it was my way of putting things right.

Can you summarise your latest work in just a few words?

Young boy turns detective to save the family’s housekeeper from the gallows.

What was the inspiration for this book?

The Secret of Lakeham Abbey is a sort of unofficial sequel to an earlier novel of mine called The Dark Marshes. Like The Secret of Lakeham Abbey, The Dark Marshes was an epistolary novel, featuring characters from the Marsh and Lakeham family. But it’s set some 80 years before The Secret of Lakeham Abbey, so it’s not an actual sequel. I just had a hankering to go back to Lakeham Abbey, to see how the families had fared since. To me, the house is a character in its own right, and it was the effects of living in that house I wanted to explore. I also feel I’ll go back to it one day, though I can’t decide if I’m going to jump another couple of generations or let Percy Sullivan go back and investigate there!

Did you do any research for the book?

Although I write novels set in a historical period, I’m not a historical novelist. So I only ever do as much research as I need to tell my story. So I researched rationing after the war, the Berlin Airlift (just to set the date of the novel in readers’ minds) and women who were hanged. Oh and the difference between Tuscan and Etruscan pottery! (Hint: There isn’t any difference). The rest I more or less made up.

The Secret of Lakeham Abbey is a slight departure from your usual genre.  What made you decide to write something different?

I don’t know that it’s that much of a departure. I’ve always written romantic intrigue with a suitably high body count. It’s just that with The Secret of Lakeham Abbey I decided to push the romance to the background, and concentrate on the investigation. Though to be honest, it didn’t start out that way. The story was supposed to be Anne and Guy’s. But then Percy Sullivan stuck his nose in and told me that actually it was his story. I suppose it is a departure in that the sleuth is a child and I’d never written a story from a child’s point of view before. That set its own challenges, as whilst Percy was the main character, I didn’t want to write a children’s book, and with the setting being the late forties, there was a danger it could come across as a bit twee. So it was a conscious decision to have him swearing the first time he met Anne, so that the reader knows we’re not in Enid Blyton country.

The story is written in epistolary form.  What made you decide on this style?

The unofficial prequel, The Dark Marshes, was also in epistolary form, so it seemed right that this one should be too. But I’m addicted to the form anyway. Some of my favourite novels are epistolary, including The Woman in White, The Moonstone, Dracula, Les Liaisons Dangereuses and more recently The Book of Human Skin. I love exploring the different voices, and also peppering clues throughout everyone’s account of the events, so that eventually, from mere snippets, we get the whole story.

What does a typical writing day involve for you?

You know me, Sue. Wake up, make a cup of tea. Log onto Facebook. Decide around 10am that I ought to do something. Write for about three hours – I’m a touch typist so can get an awful lot done in a short time when a story is in my head – then back onto Facebook. Though I do have other things to do. Until recently I was on the Romantic Novelists Association Committee, organizing their parties, and taking part in other committee related tasks. And I’ve got grandchildren and am apparently the best babysitter in the world (I’m cheap and can be had for the price of a breakfast at my favourite watering hole).

How do you decide on the names for your characters?

Obviously I give some thought to the era, and what was popular, but mostly the characters tell me their own names. Until I have a name, I don’t really have a character. That’s not to say that I don’t sometimes completely change them!

Do you plot your novels in advance, or allow them to develop as you write?

I’m very much a seat of my pants writer, though sometimes I may write down a very quick – no more than 500 words – summary of where I see it going. But that’s not set in stone, and as I said earlier, I can start off with one idea – telling Anne and Guy’s story – then change it as the story demands.

Which writers have influenced your own writing?

From the point of view of epistolary novels, Wilkie Collins and Choderlos de Laclos, plus others mentioned above. For the crime element, it’s Agatha Christie all the way. As for romance, I used to read loads of Barbara Cartland, though her particular ‘values’ are very out of date now. And I have devoured dozens of Mills and Boon novels. Kate Walker is my particular favourite. Her novels are so emotional and beautifully written.

What has been the best part of the writing process… and the worst?

The best is getting new idea and not being able to do anything else until it’s written. I absolutely love that feeling. The worst is the opposite feeling, when even if I have ideas, they won’t flow and I can’t write until I have a story almost complete in my head.

Now the book is published and ‘out there’ how do you feel?

Elated, and very excited to be working with a new publisher. I haven’t worked with Crooked Cat before, but it’s been a lovely experience. Everyone is so friendly and also very sympathetic to the writer’s wishes.

Is there a message in your book? 

I don’t think so. I never set out to be didactic. I always think I’m here to entertain, not to preach. But if anyone takes a message from the book, I hope it’s to believe in yourself. Neither Percy nor his mother do believe in themselves, yet they both have more strength than they realise.

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Don’t let anyone else tell you that you can’t be a writer. I know from personal experience that it’s very easy to get disheartened when someone who claims to be an expert tells you that you’re doing it all ‘wrong’.

Yes, if you want to be published you have to write to the market, but you can still write whatever you want. Don’t be ashamed of being a genre writer, if that’s where your imagination takes you.

What can we expect from you in the future?

I am hoping to revisit Lakeham Abbey sometime in the future, and also to revisit Percy Sullivan. Whether I combine the two is another matter, as I fancy taking Percy to new places. At the moment I’m working on a Christmas themed novel for My Weekly Pocket Novels, and in June, seven of my stories will appear in one issue of the My Weekly Summer Special. Plus, I have an idea for a saga. Then there’s another idea about… I’m not short of ideas. Just short of the time to write them all!

You can find out more about Sally on her blog.  

The Secret of Lakeham Abbey is available from Amazon UK, Amazon US and Smashwords.

Wednesday 4 May 2016

I HAVE A CUNNING PLAN - an interview with Astrid Arditi

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming the lovely Astrid Arditi to my blog.  Astrid's debut novel, A Cunning Plan, is published by Crooked Cat this coming Friday.

Welcome, Astrid!  What prompted you to first start writing? What was the first thing you wrote?
There never was a time when I didn’t write. Even as a kid. Books have always been my friends and making up stories is just a derivative of my love of reading. Before writing full length novels, I wrote a story for kids called Tom and the Sock Nibbler where I explore the strange disappearance of socks in my hous 

Can you summarise your latest work in just a few words?
A Cunning Plan is the story of Sloane Harper, freshly divorced housewife, who decides to put her family back together for her daughters’ sake. Then she meets Ethan Cunning, a handsome IRS agent, and that sends her life spinning out of control.

What was the inspiration for this book?
Most women in my life and their incapacity to see how wonderful and deserving of happiness they truly are.

Did you do any research for the book?
Not really. I’m too lazy to actually do research which is why I love fiction. I just make it up as I go.

What does a typical writing day involve for you?
I try to write a couple hours every day, in the morning, sitting in my favorite cafĂ© while my daughter is in nursery. I don’t need more time because my brain fries after three hours of writing top anyway.

How do you decide on the names for your characters?
Some names I choose according to their function in the story or a quality that defines them – Ethan Cunning for instance. I browse baby names sites a lot as well.

Do you plot your novels in advance, or allow them to develop as you write?
I do a lot of free writing at the beginning to let the story come to life. When I feel confident enough that my characters have substance, I let them run wild and follow closely on their heels, jotting down what they do or say.

Which writers have influenced your own writing?
Janet Evanovich is a big source of inspiration for me. Just love her Stephanie Plum series. I love Helen Fielding as well. My tastes in books are pretty eclectic so my writing is a mix of many different genres and influence.

What has been the best part of the writing process…and the worst?
I love making friends with my characters, seeing them come alive and surprise me. It never ceases to amaze me.
I hate it when the story seems stuck or stilted. Those days I just step away, forget about writing altogether and wait for a way out of the hole I’ve dug for my story.

Now the book is published and ‘out there’ how do you feel?
I still can’t believe it’s real! The publishing process is an ongoing one so I never stopped to celebrate properly. Need to open a nice bottle of champagne and relax for a night.

Is there a message in your book? 
I thought of my daughter a lot while writing this book. I wish I could save her the heartache insecurities bring. So I guess the message would be: Believe in yourself and don’t let anyone take you down.

Do you have any advice for new writers?
Keep writing, trust that you have something unique to say, believe in yourself.

What can we expect from you in the future?
Book 2 in the Sloane Harper series, hopefully.

That sounds like a plan!  Good luck, and thank you for visiting.  Please come again!


Determined to put her family back together, Sloane Harper stalks her ex husband and his annoyingly stunning mistress, Kate. But she’s not the only one. Handsome IRS agent Ethan Cunning is surveying them too, but not for the same reasons. He is attempting to nail Kate’s playboy boss.
Ethan and Sloane decide to help each other, which sends Sloane’s wobbly life spinning out of control. She’ll have to face danger, humiliation, and scariest of all, the dating scene, to lure her daughters’ father home.
Losing control was the best thing to happen to Sloane… until it turned lethal.



Astrid Arditi was born to a French father and a Swedish mother. She lived in Paris and Rome before moving to London with her husband and daughter back in 2013.  After dabbling in journalism, interning at Glamour magazine, and teaching kindergarten, Arditi returned to her first love: writing.  She now splits her time between raising her kids (a brand new baby boy just joined the family) and making up stories.  A Cunning Plan is Arditi's first published work.

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