Search Sue's Blog

Sunday 20 May 2018

NAH, IT DIDN'T HAPPEN - a guest post by Joan Livingston

Today my guest is the lovely Joan Livingston, whose mystery novel Chasing the Chase has just been published.  The book is the first in a series featuring the amateur sleuth Isabel Long.

Welcome, Joan!

It’s the question I invariably get about my fiction: How much of it is true? I believe it’s an honest question, and I will give an honest answer. Certainly, people, especially those who know me personally, might speculate about my new mystery, Chasing the Case.

But let me back up a bit and say that I have been inspired by people and places I have met. That includes the rural hill towns of Western Massachusetts, in particular Worthington, where my family and I lived for twenty-five years. I even set the mystery in a town called Conwell, a name that has a connection to Worthington. But is it really Worthington? Nah.

There are other nahs in Chasing the Case.

A woman did not disappear from a hill town of thousand people 28 years ago. I made that up.
I will admit there is a lot of me in the protagonist Isabel Long. The mystery is written in the first person, so I couldn’t help myself there. We’re both nosy, sassy women. But she’s a widow and I’m not. She has three kids and I have six. She got canned when her newspaper went corporate. I didn’t. And after leaving the newspaper biz, I haven’t become an amateur P.I. as she did. Frankly, I am not that brave.

As for the other characters, I do model Isabel’s 92-year-old mother, her Watson, after my own mystery-loving mom. (She was amused.) But my mother doesn’t live with me. Isabel’s three kids are inspired by a few of my own. Yeah, there’s a lot of my own spouse in Isabel’s late husband.
But the rest? The characters – from the missing woman’s family to the gossipy men in the general store’s back room to the clients at the bar where Isabel works part-time to the bar’s owner – are made up. I repeat: they are made up.

I once had a New York agent who wanted me to write a tell-all nonfiction book about my life in Worthington – something on the order of Peyton Place. He read the first couple of chapters and wanted a whole lot more dirt. But I couldn’t do it. I loved the people and the town too much.

So instead I write fiction. I use what I’ve experienced, as I’ve said before, and have my way with it.  I believe this is true of many or most fiction writers.

The previous novel I published – The Sweet Spot – centered on a scandal involving the young widow of a soldier killed in Vietnam eight years and her married brother-in-law. Did it happen? Nah.
But I’d like to think I wrote it with enough authenticity that one could believe it happened. The same goes for Chasing the Case.

Chasing the Case officially launched on 18 May 2018. Here’s the link to order a Kindle version or buy the paperback:

Social Media:
Twitter: @joanlivingston 
Litsy: JoanLivingston

Thursday 17 May 2018

GAINING INSPIRATION FROM REAL LIFE - a guest post by Vanessa Couchman

Today I have a very special guest on my blog - the fabulous and multi-talented Vanessa Couchman.  I've had the pleasure and privilege of working with Vanessa as editor of both her novels (The House at Zaronza and The Corsican Widow) - both of which I can highly recommend.  Here, she shares some of the secrets of her inspiration.

Welcome, Vanessa!  Over to you...

Historical fiction is based on real life events, or at least they establish the backdrop to the story. Part of the appeal, both for readers and writers, is the weaving of fiction around fact. Some periods of history are especially popular hunting grounds for authors seeking inspiration. For example, there seems to be an inexhaustible interest in the romantic lives of the Tudors and in the turmoil of the two world wars.

For me, the choice of topic to write about is rarely the result of a conscious plan. Small snippets, stumbled upon unexpectedly, spark off inspiration. I didn’t set out to write either of my published novels, but they wouldn’t leave me alone until I had.

It’s purely by chance that I set my first two novels on the Mediterranean island of Corsica. While on holiday there a few years ago, we chose one of two guest houses in a village on the coast of Cap Corse. 

In our room we noticed some old letters that had been framed and hung on the walls. The Corsican owner told us that when he was restoring the house, a workman found the letters in a box walled up in a niche in the attic.

They turned out to be love letters, written in the 1890s by the village schoolmaster to the daughter of the house, a bourgeois family who would have disapproved of their relationship. They were star-crossed lovers. She had to marry someone else for family reasons (not uncommon on Corsica) and it was not a happy marriage by the sound of it.

Who walled up the letters? Why? What happened to the schoolmaster? What was it like to live in a Corsican village at the turn of the century? This story intrigued me, so my first novel, The House at Zaronza, fills in the gaps in the real-life story. It follows the life of the young woman, whom I named Maria, from 1899 up to the early 1920s, via World War I.

My second novel, The Corsican Widow, which has just been released, was inspired in a similar way. While carrying out some research on another topic, I happened upon an article about female criminality in 18th-century Corsica. You might think this is a somewhat abstruse topic, but the article contained a fascinating snippet from a contemporary chronicle. This related the story of a wealthy widow who is lonely after the death of her husband. She falls for her shepherd and scandalises her neighbours and the rigid, traditionalist Corsican society in which she lives.

I can’t say much more without giving away the plot, but suffice it to say that this story kept creeping into my mind. I had to put aside my other project and write The Corsican Widow first.

To write both novels I had to do considerable research about the history and culture of Corsica. When writing historical fiction, it’s not enough just to tell the story. You also have to get your facts right! 

Vanessa Couchman is a novelist, short story author and freelance writer and has lived in southwest France since 1997. She is fascinated by Corsican and French history and culture. Vanessa has published two novels, The House at Zaronza and The Corsican Widow, in the Tales of Corsica series, and plans further Corsica novels as well as historical novels based in France. Her short stories have won and been placed in creative writing competitions and published in anthologies.

Writing website:   
Amazon author page:
Twitter: @Vanessainfrance

All of Vanessa’s books are available in Kindle and paperback formats from Amazon.

The Corsican Widow:
The House at Zaronza (reissued in 2018):
French Collection: Twelve Short Stories:

Monday 7 May 2018

THE RED DIE - an interview with Alex Macbeth

Today I have a very special guest - the fabulous Alex Macbeth, whose new novel THE RED DIE was published by Crooked Cat Books last month.  

Welcome, Alex! What prompted you to first start writing? What was the first thing you wrote?

I have to acknowledge the influence of my parents, both of whom were writers. When I was younger I hated books precisely because of that, but slowly reading, and then writing, grew on me.

Can you summarise the book in just a few words?

A dead journalist and a corporate scam threaten the integrity of an African nation. Can a disgraced policeman solve the case and survive?

That sounds fascinating, and it's at the top of my TBR pile. What was the inspiration for it?

The humility of some of the officers I met traveling in East Africa, especially in rural areas where the job is really tough. And Mozambique, where my family have lived for the last 15 years. While the book is completely fictional, many of the hurdles that the characters go through are based on everyday reality.

Did you do any research for the book?


What does a typical writing day involve for you?

Finding inspiration for a scene and an image and developing it as best I can within my narrative.

How do you decide on the names for your characters?

Most of my characters are based on real people but adapted.

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

Good question. I like to plan but a novel seems to be what happens while you are busy making plans as an author!

Which writers have influenced your own writing?

McCall Smith, Mankell, Sjowall & Wahloo, Wa Thiong’o, Saramago, Chekhov,  Marechera, Gogol, Okri… almost every book I read influences me in some way, for the better or for the worse.

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

The best part is finishing a late draft of your novel and feeling satisfied with it. The worst feeling is the opposite.

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

Under pressure to write a sequel/prequel.

Is there a message for the reader?

I hope so, I like to think the book challenges some of the stereotypes that people might have.

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Samuel Beckett’s words: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Wise words indeed.  What can we expect from you in the future?

A sequel to The Red Die is in the works. I also own a publishing house in Mozambique, Ethale Publishing, and I have several titles lined up there. Hopefully you’ll hear more from me!  

I hope so too, Alex! Thank you for visiting my blog today. Please come again!  


Buy the book here
Alex's website 
Alex's Twitter 
THE RED DIE on Facebook