Friday, 22 August 2014

Lisl Reviews: Forty Years in a Day


Forty Years in a Day
By Mona Rodriguez and Dianne Vigorito


Please see below for giveaway information of two copies of this fantastic novel

History is a fascinating mirror and perhaps none is more so than the people who lived through it. Adding to the layers of intrigue are oral traditions passed down within families that lend new angles of perception and understanding to previous events, not least of them being the awareness that these are one’s own people.

Manhattan Island's Hell's Kitchen c. 1890,
shortly before our story begins
Photographed by Jacob Riis
I’ve been fortunate recently to have made the acquaintance of several books written about authors’ relatives and ancestors, amongst them Forty Years in a Day, a family story told to one woman by her immigrant father on his 90th birthday. Having journeyed to Ellis Island, scene of so many immigrant beginnings on our shores, the pair pass through the interior of a building that “exploded with thousands of personal stories of hardship and hope.” Clare sees her father’s face in those lining the walls, these images reflecting the “disquietude of an era.”

She understands already that the comfortable life she lives now is in debt to those who came before, including her father, Vincenzo. His childhood journey from an Italian village to New York's Hell's Kitchen was marked with a near-death experience and instances of degradation his mother, Victoria, tried to pass off as ordinary in the hope he would forget. Whether Vincenzo recalls those earliest instances or retrieves them from his mother's diary is not articulated, but Rodriguez and Vigorito lay out an understanding for Clare to absorb that is much larger than any of it, suggesting that even had Vincenzo remembered, he is beyond it. As father and daughter sit outside the island’s museum, silently taking in the beauty of the crisp autumn afternoon, Clare remarks on the beauty of the day.

“My father simply replied, ‘Clare, every day you’re alive is a beautiful day.’
Throughout his life, the phrase ‘it’s a beautiful day’ had become his mantra. I had always thought of it as cordial chitchat used to fill the uncomfortable gaps of silence in conversations, but only now did I comprehend the depth of his penetrating words.”

As they sit on the bench, Vincenzo Montenaro tells his daughter Clare the story of his life and his family, more precisely that of his mother, forced to leave an abusive husband and board a ship alone with several small children. The language is straightforward and accessible, but never simple, and the authors clearly work well together, possessing a talent for relating details that elapse over a long and arduous period of time, without overburdening the reader. We get a clear sense of how awful is the journey and its inherent pains, terrors, humiliations, discomforts, even cruelties.

This, in fact, is the style of the entire novel—many years encapsulated in much the same way the elder Montenaro would have done when taking only a single afternoon to describe forty years of his life. It is part of the authors’ craft that one never really knows for sure whether each individual segment is shortened by necessity or because suggestion is more powerful than a full-on witnessed account. Indeed, certain details are too wrenching to lay openly on the table, so to speak, and in fact would not do them justice. Some things, as is oft repeated, are best left to the imagination.

Vincenzo takes Clare—and us—through his mother’s story, her journey with the children to America and the years in which her life is essentially on hold because she mistakenly believes the husband she fled lives on. As time moves forward, Victoria, and her family as well as society, experiences growth and the awkward, inspirational and even ordinary moments informing and directing decisions pertaining to children, careers, dating, friendships, recreational activities, marriage and children, crises, illness and death, war, struggle, failures and triumph, and looking towards the future while remembering dreams of the past.

Mission House in Hell's Kitchen
c. 1915
Somehow the myth pertaining to this era’s more “innocent” time has managed to stay afloat in our own society,  though Rodriguez and Vigorito attempt no such fluff. Life at this time was difficult, even nightmarish for some, though there were opportunities as well. New York City in the first half of the 20th century was no playground: Irish mafia wars rivaled disease and poverty and though many emerged intact, very few escaped at least some contact with both.

But, like life in any era, there existed also the beauty of the ordinary, perhaps what Vincenzo, even in childhood, reveled in the most as he passionately embraced his appreciation for life:

Victoria knew the smell of the fresh baked bread and sauce simmering on the stove were ones the children looked forward to six days to Sunday. The minute she and [sister-in-law] Genevieve left the kitchen to ready themselves for church, Vincenzo would rip a loaf of the warm bread into pieces, dunk them into the sauce, and dole them out to his cousins and siblings. By the time Victoria returned, washcloth in hand, one of the loaves would have inconspicuously disappeared. Smiling to herself, she would casually wipe away the residue of red that rimmed their lips, pretending she was unaware of their weekly ritual.

Perhaps one of the novel’s greatest strengths is the manner in which it balances understanding of one realism within history: from the beginning human beings have always loved to be told stories, and it is no accident that our own histories resonate so deeply within us. The series of stories told throughout the book, as Vincenzo and his siblings—and the enlarging cast of characters—journey though teen years and young adulthood, as they enter into middle age, these stories satisfy a need to know about life for others and at other times, told by two with the eye and instinct of keen storytellers who know exactly when to divulge, when to pause and hold onto secrets and twists. They also embody the mirror image of those who love to be told a tale by fully displaying the seeming human satisfaction in telling one. Effortlessly weaving through time and connections within the characters’ own era, neighborhood and circles, they also touch our own. 

So much happens in this novel, really a memoir of sorts--beginning in first person and shifting away as Vincenzo picks up--but readers are moved forward, perhaps a reflection of Vincenzo's own perspective and the manner in which he habitually looks forward, rarely dwelling on past events Here, too, the authors, who are in fact cousins telling their own family's story, bring us to witness exactly how much the patriarch values the future and those who will occupy it. Like Clare who learns so much that afternoon, readers will be "exhausted and inspired from the journey[,]" and wouldn't have it any other way. 


Mona Rodriguez and Dianne Vigorito have so graciously offered two copies of Forty Years in a Day for giveaway. To become eligible, simply comment below or at this review's associated Facebook thread

You can learn more about the authors and Forty Years in a Day at their website or blog, or follow on Twitter or Pinterest. You may also find Forty Years in a Day for purchase at Amazon.

*********

Lisl is the author of poetry published in Alaska Women Speakcontributor to Naming the Goddess (ed. Trevor Greenfield) and is currently working on a collection of short stories. She can also be found at before the second sleep


Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Book Review: Josiah Stubb: The Siege of Louisbourg by C.W. Lovatt


Please see below for giveaway information!




That solid mass of men appeard unstoppable, and indeed, there was many a nervous glance between us, as we knew that our numbers would be insufficent for the task; still we proceeded with all possible haste through the thick undergrowth when the order for double-time was given, for the enemy's goal could not be more clear.

We are introduced to Josiah Stubb and his comrades of the 51st regiment of Grenadiers as they prepare to make a hazardous amphibious landing. It is 1758 and we are in the midst of the Seven Years' War, a global conflict, now that the major powers have colonial interests, lasting from 1754 until 1763. In Anglophone North America the struggle is known as the French and Indian War and had started two years previously.


The French fortress of Louisbourg was, up to 1758, the most expensive stronghold in North America. With its harbour, it dominated the approaches to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the heartland of Arcadia and New France while its naval squadron was a constant threat to British maritime supply lines.


Thus Josiah Stubb finds himself in boat striving for shore with his best friend Daniel Hawthorne on one side and the perverse and mannerless Ben Stokingdale on the other.  Before them the muskets and cannon of the French open fire. Their fire is so intense that the attack is almost called off until a sheltered, undefended, cove is discovered.


Josiah and his comrades find themselves in the first wave, stealth fully creating a perimeter while the rest of the attacking units land. Josiah is ordered to watch the unsuspecting enemy who think they have repelled the British. Josiah’s mind drifts off recalling the events that have brought him to this juncture: his humble origins as a son of a whore, his abused upbringing in St. Johns and the love of his life, Elizabeth. Daydreaming, he allows the enemy to gain knowledge of the tenuous British defences; his punishable laxness is noted by his superior, the popular Captain Beaumont.  Soon Monsieur is launching a ferocious counterattack on the British position. In the ensuing struggle young Stubb and his comrades give a good account of themselves and, with British reinforcements arriving, the French are forced back, yielding their outer defences.  The night after the battle Josiah is summoned to the Captain to face judgement for his misdemeanour; his history comes back to haunt him in a most terrible and humiliating way.


It is during lulls in the fighting that Josiah is able to reminisce and we learn of his abusive upbringing, by his mother and her plans for him. She does however ensure that he is literate and Josiah is determined on bettering his future and uses his skills to this end. It is then that he falls in love with Elizabeth. They are forced apart by circumstance and the machinations of others, but can he win her back?

These reminisce scenes are cleverly woven into the novel's progression by the author, so in effect we have two timelines to the story running parallel. It could almost be said the book ends at the beginning! The dialogue has C18th century accents running through it; the down at heel Stokingdale sounds exactly as the reader would expect!


Mr. Lovatt has certainly done some meticulous research into this siege, which proved to be one of the most decisive engagements of the war. The military engagements are well described and as a reader I was there as well, desperately trying to load my musket as the French advanced. I enjoyed the little details, such as having to clean the musket of powder residue, and the description of the siege lines and the effort taken in digging them.


The author's prose is brilliantly descriptive; we are learning of this crucial siege, but at the same time the character of Josiah is fleshed out, complete with his dreams and his demons. Josiah Stubb is a believable character; the reader feels for his attempt to come to terms with his abusive past and tortured present. He is a true child of his time, as the Age of Reason begins to change the world around him and he grasps the opportunity to better himself, driven by his love of his soul mate, Elizabeth, although he feels his romance is doomed from the onset. In the background we are viewing the birthing pains of modern Canada and see the shooting star of General Wolfe beginning to burn bright.


Only at the close  of the novel do we really learn how he first met his comrades and even who his father may be. Josiah Stubb could easily be a stand-alone book; however all is set up quite nicely for a sequel. I sincerely hope that is the case as I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which I found to be a
real page turner.


For a chance to win a copy of Josiah Stubb: The Siege of Louisbourg, simply comment below or on this review's associated Facebook thread




C.W. Lovatt lives in Manitoba, Canada. Josiah Stubb: The Siege of Louisbourg is his third novel. It is available at Amazon.



This review was written by Rob Bayliss. Rob is currently working on his Flint and Steel, Fire and Shadow fantasy series. Part one, The Sun Shard is available at Amazon.

Louise E. Rule Interviews Judith Arnopp for The Review Author Interviews


From Judith Arnopp's Author Page on amazon.co.uk

Judith Arnopp
I live on a smallholding in West Wales with my husband, John, and two of our grown-up children. We used to do the whole self-sufficiency thing but the fox ate all the chickens, the slugs ate all the lettuce and ill health forced us to give up the battle. Now we care for our daughter's elderly pony and enjoy our Jack Russell, Bryn.

My greatest loves have always been writing and history. Since I was very small I have had a book in one hand and a pen in the other. These days, I have progressed to this wonderful machine which allows me to write the sort of books I love to read. Historical settings with a good strong lead female.

One of the great tragedies of history is that monastic chroniclers didn't think women sufficiently important enough to give them space on the record. This has caused women to be under-represented and, in my opinion, also often incorrectly categorised. Of course, the male section of medieval society tried to suppress their women; it still happens today but that doesn't mean that every one of them bowed down to male authority.
There were women like Aethelflaed, who ruled Mercia for thirty four years, led armies against the Vikings, refortified the Roman towns of Chester and Tamworth, founded Shrewsbury, Bridgnorth, Warwick and Stafford. Eleanor of Aquitaine who, among other things, ruled England on behalf of her son, King Richard the Lionheart's behalf until he could come to claim his throne. Margaret of Anjou who fought unsuccessfully for her son's rights and Margaret Beaufort whose campaign to put her son, Henry VII, on the throne, was rather more successful. Mary Banks who, along with her daughters and a handful of servants, withstood a siege at Corfe Castle on behalf of King Charles during the civil war. These are just a few examples of women who 'displayed a courage far above their sex as to surprise and disconcert their men' and they are the type of women you will find in my novels.

Welcome Judith Arnopp to The Review Author Interview, and thank you for taking the time to chat with me today.

Apart from your poetry book Waving at Trains, a personal account of your life, Judith, you have written and co-written many books. Can you tell the readers what gave you the inspiration to write about the Tudors?

The Winchester Goose
I have always loved the Tudors but when I started to write professionally I thought they'd been 'done to death' so I set my first novel in the Anglo Saxon period, which is another era I love. it was quite well received but, three novels later, I'd had so many people ask me if I had written anything 'Tudor' I thought I should oblige. That is when The Winchester Goose came into being and after that things really took off for me. I am very grateful, both to Henry VIII for having so many wives and to the people who suggested them.




Given that many books have been written about the Tudors, and in particular, Anne Boleyn, what was the catalyst that drove you to write The Kiss of the Concubine: A Story of Anne Boleyn?

I have both studied and read novels about Anne Boleyn since I was a young girl but never been entirely satisfied with any of them. She has been sadly maligned for years. I don't believe she was perfect but certainly most of the accusations against her were false. Most of the authors I've read embrace the legends of incest and witchcraft that emerged after her death. In my opinion Anne's story is dramatic enough and doesn't need embellishing too much. The Kiss of the Concubine doesn't concentrate on the pomp and ceremony of being queen, it hones in on the woman beneath and what marriage to a man like Henry might have been like.

I found it very interesting that you wrote it in the first person, and in particular at the beginning of the book, when Anne is a ghost talking to Henry on his deathbed. It lends an air of the sinister, matching the life of the king. With this in mind, can you tell the readers why you decided to write it from Anne's point of view?


The Kiss of the Concubine
I enjoy writing in the first person narrative and wanted to tell the story from her perspective. As I mentioned in the previous question she was subjected to false accusations and posthumously demonised further by her enemies. By stepping directly into her shoes, the reader experiences only the things that Anne would have been aware of. Henry and Anne's marriage was full of argument and reconciliation but there is very little to suggest any untoward break-up in their relationship right up to the time of her arrest. In The Kiss of the Concubine, when she is in the Tower, Anne is not fully aware of the real danger in which she stands and clings to the belief that Henry will free and forgive her. She knows nothing of the plots against her, or that the swordsman is summoned from France before her trial has taken place.



It is really intriguing seeing what life was like with Henry VII. Even though there is much to read regarding Henry and Anne, how did you go about making it different from all the other books written about them?

I didn't really give it much thought at the time but in retrospect I think it is different from other books because of the perspective it is written from, and also because I have stripped away the glitz and glamour to show the man and woman beneath. In the excerpt below their son has just been still-born, instead of having Henry angry and resentful, I paint them as grieving parents.

Exhausted after hours of travail, I slump on my pillows as they hand me my child. My son is swaddled in linen, his little blue face closed as in sleep, his purple lips like a bow. I cast back the covering to examine his perfectly formed limbs, his minute nail-less fingers, the tiny proof of his manhood. Apart from the fact he does not breathe, our little prince is perfect.

They take him from me, creeping away, and I roll over and wish I could die. I can find no comfort. I have lost our son, the prince that we have fought for all these years. What has it all been for? The tears don't fall, they wash down my face, no sobbing, no thrashing. I am saturated in grief. My attendants don't know what to say to me. They avoid my eye, speak in whispers and creep from my presence. When Henry finally deigns to come and face me I am quite alone, with only the terror of my thoughts for company.
He is deflated, like a child's bladder ball, his royal brilliance destroyed, his confidence quashed. I raise sore, wet eyes to him and for a long while we stare at each other, my throat working painfully, my breast burning. His face is flaccid and I can detect no anger, just unquenchable sorrow. In the end I hold out a hand, and after a long time of just looking at it, he eventually takes it and falls onto the bed beside me.
I curl myself around him, cling to the strong trunk of his body, my arms choking, my legs wrapped about his hips. If I could climb inside him I would, for there is nowhere and no one safe in this world but him; nowhere I can escape to and no way to put things right.
 As we lie there together, his torso begins to quiver and then shakes as great heaving sobs begin to tear him apart. I weep with him; useless, wrenching tears that have no end and do not heal. Henry and I are the most powerful couple in all of England and yet, in the face of death, we are powerless.

Writing historical fiction allows an author carte blanche to mix fact with fiction with alacrity. So how do you go about creating a balance between the two?

There is a very fine balance needed to create a believable world. By sticking too closely to facts and events the resulting book an be colourless. I research the Tudor world until I feel I can walk through the streets and houses quite comfortably. When it comes to writing it down I try not to describe it so much that I distract the reader from the story. I try to add just enough to provide an authentic backdrop. I keep a timeline of recorded events to hand, pictures and short bios of the historical characters and then I just begin to write. It sort of just happens. During the edits I sometimes have to take things out or add a little more to get the best mix. It is a bit like cooking; sometimes the recipe needs more spice, sometimes less. Whenever I do stray from fact or accepted opinion I always clarify it in an author's note. The past has gone and we can never really know what happened or how it was, so I never claim my version of events is 'history' or 'truth.' My stories are just ideas or speculation of how it might have been.

You are a prolific writer, Judith. Could you tell our readers what you next book will be about?

It is called A Song of Sixpence and is about Elizabeth of York and Perkin Warbeck - a dual narrative meshing their stories together until the time they meet. I have taken the idea that Perkin was in fact one of the princes in the Tower and Elizabeth's younger brother. It is going very well. I am just writing about the infancy of Elizabeth's second son, the young Henry (later the eighth of that name) and as you might imagine he is a proper handful. Elizabeth's life is quite well recorded so her side of the story follows history quite closely but we know virtually nothing of Perkin's life overseas so I am able to give my creative side fuller rein. This book is proving to be fun to write and I usually find that the more I enjoy writing a book the better it turns out. I have high hopes for this one.

Do you find writing becomes easier the more books that you write?

In some ways it does. Structure and formatting becomes second nature but it is quite difficult to ensure all the books don't end up the same. I have read lots of very successful authors who start off really fresh and gripping but after a while their books become formulaic. I hope I can avoid that but only time will tell. I think it is traditionally published authors who suffer this the most; they have the pressure of deadlines and publisher demands. As an independent author I can take as long as I want over a book and I put a lot of thought into how I want to structure it. If I want to take a risk and write first person, present tense I can, because I am my own boss. If it doesn't work I have only myself to blame. So, for me, keeping fresh is the greatest challenge.

When you co-write a book, how do you go about dividing the writing, or does it just evolve?

The only books I've co-written are anthologies with the writing group Cwrtnewydd Scribblers of which I am a member. We do one most years. We just get all our favourite different pieces together and decide which should go in and which should not. We then have to agree on covers and fonts etc. We give a percentage of the royalties to Air Ambulance Wales. Publishing our anthologies has improved our writing and publishing skills and added to the cohesion of the group and I would recommend it to all writing groups. You might not sell many but it is another string to your bow.

Judging by your posts on Facebook, your writing day starts quite early. Do you have a set working ethic, or is it flexible Judith?

It is entirely flexible; it has to be but I try to write and promote every day and aim to write four out of seven days. I write quite quickly so this works well for me. I also do a lot of blogging and networking, usually early in the morning while I am having breakfast and then I settle down to work on the WIP. I try to get a set amount of words done each day and sometimes I reach my goal, sometimes not. I often have to take a break to research some detail. There are also periods when my head gets so clogged up with the events in my novel that I am in danger of forgetting who I really am. Then I have to force myself to turn it off and re-enter the real world for a while.

I love making notes, and lists to do with my writing. How do you keep your story-lines on track?

I make a time-line and pin it up to keep a track of where I am supposed to be going. It is like the backbone of my novel and everything else is the flesh and muscle. When I research I scrawl notes on a notebook but my handwriting is so terrible I really struggle when it comes to reading them back. If I were to take all the sticky Post-It notes I have used so far in my career I could probably paper the walls of the house.

Many authors have beta readers for their manuscripts, so do you have beta readers for yours?

When I meet with the writing group they listen to the work so far and critique it as I go along. My husband also reads it. Then I have two other beta readers who are not related to me in any way. They look for continuity errors, things that trip them up, typos etc., by this time I have usually read it through so many times I am sick and tired of it and begin to not really 'see' it anymore. That is the time to lay it aside and step away.

After that I give it a final read through and edit before it goes off to my professional editor who does a wonderful job on it. Every writer really needs beta readers and editors - it is really not a good idea to publish without. It is asking for trouble.

Finally, Judith, could you tell our readers how you go about choosing a cover for your books?

In the early days I made many mistakes with covers and, once I had gained more experience, I had to repackage all three of my early novels. The cover is a big decision, something I didn't realise at first. These days I am lucky to have made friends with the designer Covergirl, and she now does all my covers. We work together to find a photograph we both like. I have simple tastes and prefer just a figure or a symbol that says something about the era the book is written in. For my last book, Intractable Heart, I was lucky enough to work with Darren Wilkins of The Tudor Roses fame, and purchased the use of his wonderful photograph. My cover designer then worked her magic on it. I am currently looking for a photograph or a contemporary painting that is available for use. Ideas are always welcome.

Thank you so much Judith, it's been really so interesting chatting with you.

Judith Arnopp is also author of:

Intractable Heart: A Story of Katheryn Parr
Peaceweaver
The Forest Dwellers, and so many more. 
To see all of Judith's books, please visit her amazon.co.uk page here.
Judith can also be found on Facebook, Twitter and on her blog and website




Louise E. Rule

Louise E. Rule is author of Future Confronted
And can be found on Facebook, Twitter and on her blog.



Sunday, 17 August 2014

Lisl Reviews: Future Confronted by Louise E. Rule


Future Confronted 
by Louise Rule

It has on many occasions through time been spoken of: the unnaturalness of outliving one’s own child. Unfortunately, many people have had to endure this terrible order of events and each has their own way to grieve. It takes great fortitude to re-count events, for in so doing, one re-lives them and their affiliate pains, not only in the telling but also the reverberating ache that strikes the heart long after the listener has gone away.

In summoning the courage to tell her story—her son’s story—Louise Rule has gifted upon us a piece of herself, of her strength and love for people and life that teaches us without lecturing, enables us in our quest to see the world and its inhabitants as the precious creatures they are.

Rule’s son Rob was just 20 when he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, and less than two months later he was no more. Just like that, one might think, right before the swoosh of horror that passes through the consciousness coming to grips with the understanding that most people take much more than that to absorb the very reality of such an illness. Just like that.

That sort of swiftness is related to the flash of time Rule writes of in her poem, “Just a Moment,” that serves to introduce Rob’s memoir. She references that first awakening of each day before full consciousness, wherewithal, has set in—preceding the full knowledge, for her, of the reality that is.

This Moment lulls me into trusting
Everything is fine. The Moment
Passes, reality remains
I remember…

It is fitting that Rule opens the book with two memories: one of herself as a child staring up through an apple tree to the sky above, leading closer to the present as it transitions to an ash tree and a downpour, as if the heavens themselves are weeping at the loss to the world, whose tree we are under. Symbolic of healing, a state Rule pursues though cautioning on the difference between this and the impossibility of “getting over it,” the tree has now embraced Rob’s remains, his ashes, holding him in a way his mother no longer can.

Like life, even a life punctuated with occasional negative events, this memoir has its bright moments, most often shared with loved ones. Rule recounts these, too, proceeding by first talking about life after Rob’s death—fitting, given the sometimes-overwhelming task of continuing to live not just after her child has died, but also following a harrowing ten-week period in which speed and unplanned become key notions of existence, when even the compensation of adrenalin threatens shutdown and yet somehow keep going is the order of the day, and then, suddenly, without warning—stop. The adjustment is harrowing and can be debilitating.

Reflected in the title, this circumstance can lead to the breakdown of an entire family, and Rule relates how her clan could not simply go gently, as they say, nor move on: circumstances necessitated a confrontation with what was coming and a reconciliation with what was. She artfully manages the roles of each section in the book by steering them in their duties: a nonlinear storyline—the only way, really, it could have been done—told to an imaginary companion whose presence developed into a full personality, one who understood the singular import of allowing the bereaved to do all the talking. In so doing, she anchored Rule as the author found her way to a voice uniquely hers, yet fitting for all.

Rule is also clearly suited to the English degree she achieved—having commenced before her son’s illness and finished up after his death. Lyrical and flowing, while simultaneously conversational, her prose maps out these and other events free of emotion for its own sake, but with a writing quality and management skills that at times can lead us to envision the scenes in ways that reflect the moments. In one passage, for example, when the family first learn the seriousness of Rob’s diagnosis, it is as if we are viewing the passage through a prism and sensing the confusion via the distortion.

Nobody spoke; a heavy silence. We were all studying the registrar’s face, eventually; he looked at each of us in turn, then began talking again. I must admit to the fact that I can’t remember what he said after that. His mouth was moving, yes. I could hear a mumbling, yes, but I couldn’t seem to understand him. I tried…I did, I tried, but it had all become surreal, like watching T.V. with the sound down; it was happening to somebody else, not us…not us. Everything was running in slow motion. I became aware that everyone was standing up and moving toward the door…The door clicked, I turned around and stared at the door. We stood rooted, a tragic tableau in the corridor.

Within the pages of Future Confronted Rule takes us through the journey Rob and his family face as they make their way through a labyrinth, navigating in a learn-as-you-go fashion of how to do death when, in reality, despite modern advances in technology and a world of endless interpersonal seminars on taking life by the horns, most of us are still learning how to live.

Rule understands this, and makes no attempt to pass off anything formulaic—or even anything except what she knows and claims only for herself. She shares with us events from Rob’s (and her others sons’) childhood, linking, always linking her transitions and leading us to something we know we have to hear, not because it is hers, but because of her courage and generosity, that becomes ours.

The Russians say that no one ever truly dies as long as there is someone to remember them, and the author brings this to bear on the words of Cicero as she quotes:

The life of the dead is placed
In the memory of the living

Breathtaking and perhaps even frightening in the enormous responsibility this carries, Rule utilizes her skill and draws on her faith to achieve this memory keeper duty. In so doing, she allows us to see Rob a little bit more deeply, allowing us to share her task.

*********

Future Confronted has been re-released with additional content to incorporate a reflection on the 16 years since Rob’s death and how life carries out for a family missing one of its vital pieces. Time, a running theme in the book, has cemented Rule’s understanding that loss of a child is the most horrendous that ever can be. She reiterates the continuity of her “Moments,” and we sense once more the wish for cumulative moments to prolong the period in which knowledge of the worst is kept at bay.

Alas, it is not to be, though the gift that Rob was, that he is, remains the family’s focus, in part to continue living as a way to commemorate their son, their brother. “His name, and the person he was, will live on in the remembering.”

Louise E. Rule is currently focused on her next book with a working title of The Touching of the Stones and can be found at: her blogFacebookTwitterAmazon Author PageSmashwords and Goodreads

Facebook users click here to leave a comment

Update: The new edition of Future Confronted, with additional content, is currently undergoing publication revisions. Please watch our Facebook page and this blog for updated information on where to order. 


*********

Lisl is the author of poetry published in Alaska Women Speak, contributor to Naming the Goddess (ed. Trevor Greenfield) and is currently working on a collection of short stories. She can also be found at before the second sleep. If you would like Lisl to review your book, please see our submissions tab above. 

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Michelle Gent Interviews Louise E. Rule



I’ve worked with the delightful Louise for about a year now. We were introduced by a mutual friend, Paula, and soon after, Louise and I began working on her first book Future Confronted. I found the book touching and heart breaking. The lady I had begun to know had gone through all of this that I was reading. I couldn’t imagine being such a beautiful person as she is if I had had to endure what she has. I wanted to interview Louise; it didn’t seem enough to just review her book so I worked out a few questions and allowed the fabulously talented, kind and observant lady to answer for herself.


What (or who) inspired you to start writing?

My greatest inspiration came from a lecturer I had when I was at university 1999/2002. He gave me the confidence to challenge myself, to write without censoring myself until I had finished writing. He always said that it interrupted the flow of the mind. I have always written though, from childhood to now. When a child all my little stories finished happily ever after, well that’s the ideal isn’t it? I also write poetry, and love the style of a haiku. The ability to convey so much in so few lines is quite an exacting exercise.

What’s your writing regime?

My writing has to fit in around the day, so I write mostly in the afternoons and evenings. I have all my research notes to hand in both notebooks/books and on the computer. Before I start writing, I like to reread a few previous pages to get back into the swing.

What do you want from your writing career?

I write because I thoroughly enjoy it. I like the feel of a story growing in front of my eyes. I like to see the characters grow, become three dimensional people before me. So, what do I want from my writing career? Mostly it is the enjoyment of writing, the camaraderie between writers, the understanding that another writer has of your own need to write. It’s rather like the mountain climber who says that he climbs because it is there. I write because it is a need.

If you could change anything about your life, what would you change?

I would love my husband to be able-bodied again; he’s been disabled since 1993, unable to earn a living since he was just fifty years old. I know the main thing that we would like to change is the loss of our dear son Rob who died seventeen years ago from a brain tumour. If we could change that, then we would, but only to have him back free of pain and healthy again.

Do you write for your living or do you have another job or means of financial support?

I don’t write for a living… yet. I would like to make a living from it, but I’m sure that will take quite some time considering how long it takes to write a novel. I don’t have another job, I am retired so rely on the state pension and savings.

You go to your computer one morning and the Amazon page is going mental. Your book tops the lists EVERYWHERE, you have a smash hit best-seller – what’s going through your mind?

First of all I think I would just sit at the computer with my mouth agape in disbelief! Then I would probably recheck the information, and recheck the information yet again to make absolutely sure that it was all true. Somehow I should think it’s like having the winning ticket for the Euro-lottery, just total disbelief, but I would also be extremely proud to think that so many people thought so much of my book to buy it. It’s a dream isn’t it? We would all love that scenario.

Do you want to be famous? If so, what would you do with that fame?

I don’t think I have ever seriously thought about being famous, well, maybe just a little bit, daydreaming perhaps. What would I do with that fame? That’s a hard one, but first and foremost I would hope that I could use my fame to achieve some good.

Hollywood calls – do you take the call?

Oh my! Hollywood! Well, let me see, take the call or not take the call that is the question. Yes, I would take the call and see what it is that they have on offer. After that, who knows? It’s an interesting thought though.

What’s your next work about?

My next book has a working title of The Touching of Stones, and is about a master stonemason’s family, and will be a part of a trilogy. When I first started writing it, I had it starting at the end of the fourteenth century, but during my continued research I found something really interesting which was important to my story, so I decided to start the story at the beginning of the fourteenth century instead.

The story commences in Scotland, and gives me so much to work with: the characters, the way of life, the political and religious problems of the time. The story will gradually, over time, travel through Scotland, down into England, and then across to the continent. It will always have the back story of stonemasonry, churches, cathedrals, and religion as a whole. Of course, there will also be the ‘normal’ trials of life included as well.

Do you have a blog?

Yes I have a blog. You can find me here. ( http://louiseeruleauthor.blogspot.co.uk/ )

How important is it to connect with your readers?

I think it is very important. I feel this, because I value it when authors that I am in contact with take the time to interact with me. It demonstrates to me an appreciation of one’s readership and gives a two-way insight into both the author and the reader. It demonstrates to the author what it is that the readers like or dislike about their book(s), and the readers gain a better understanding of how the author works. That is why I think that Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and Blogs are such a great idea and a vital asset.


Would you be freaked out if someone recognised you in public for your book?

Freak out? No, I don’t think so. Maybe I would be embarrassed initially, after that I would be flattered. After all, the only way that they would recognise me is if they had either my book, with my picture on it, or followed me on the social network. Either way, it would mean that I had made a connection with them in some way, and that, after all, is why we write isn’t it?

How much of the book (Future Confronted) is realistic?


My book is a memoir of my son, so all of it is realistic, tracking as it does his illness through to his death. It documents his bravery and his acceptance of his own mortality. It documents how we, as a family, firstly floundered with the knowledge, and secondly learned to cope during the process of the illness, and thirdly, how we tried to build a new life without our son.

What books have most influenced your life most?

First and foremost the one book that has influenced me more than any other book is To Kill a Mockingbird. The dynamism of this book is astounding, written in a time when racialism was rife in the deep south of the USA. It is written in the common parlance of Mobile, (pronounced as Mo-beel), Alabama, and Harper Lee, the author, strips away the outer shell of life as we would wish it to be, and shows it in its purest and most raw state.

The second book to have a great influence on me is, John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, mainly because the first part was written while he was in prison.

For that same reason the book An Evil Cradling written by the hostage Brian Keenan, a devastating account of being held hostage in the Middle East. Both books demonstrate how to remain focused on a certain thing, remaining, for the most part, in the ‘moment’ so that you can survive the next. It is an incredible read, one that puts your own dilemmas into perspective. The awful conditions: the brutality, the lack of proper food, the lack of the touch of humanity… is all so palpable. Having read it several times, it is still impossible to imagine the filth, the depravation, and above all the optimism, without which none of us would survive.

What book are you reading now?

I’m reading, or rather, rereading Anna Belfrage’s Graham Saga. This is a most fascinating series that has totally captivated my imagination. The more I read them the more I find in them. The nuances of language, the time-travel aspect is intriguing, and the historical aspect is superb. Several of the books in this series have won The BRAG Medallion, which is a testament to her work.

Do you ever experience writer's block?

Yes, Michelle, I do. It’s a frustrating thing. So I usually go back to my research and wait for the spark to reignite. It’s usually while I’m reading into the historical background that my mind starts ticking, and I get a germ of an idea to start me off again. When that happens I feel so excited and just can’t wait to get started again. It’s almost like a car idling in a traffic jam, and then the lights change and you’re off again. It’s an invigorating feeling, I love it.

Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?

No I don’t, I just write and see how far I get. Usually the story takes me over. I don’t even write every day, as I have so much else to do. Even though I’m retired, and my time is my own, so to speak, my life is full with family, grandchildren, social media and the like. So the writing gets done when I can no longer resist it. It calls, and I follow.

Do you write on a typewriter, computer, dictate or longhand?

First of all I make notes by hand. I have several notebooks, one for each main character with their foibles, their looks and speech patterns, etc. and others for the historical points, storyline, and future ideas. I also keep a notebook by the bed so that when I think of something I can just jot it down. I don’t sleep well, so am often awake between maybe 02:00 and 04:30 each night. I usually read, but often I think of something to do with my book, so jot it down.

I tried dictating, but that became arduous to be honest. The sound of my own voice talking back at me wasn’t my idea of writing. So, I fire up the laptop, sit in front of it, and start writing. I have begun to use two related programs called Scrivener and Scapple, which help with planning. I found it cumbersome in the first instance, but now I am getting used to it, and finding it a useful tool.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I feel as though I have grown quite a bit actually. The more I write the more my imagination grows, and the more I believe in what I am writing.

What is your favourite positive saying?

“Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” – I had this on my office wall when I was studying at university, and it kept me on track. I don’t like the word ‘fail’ as it has negative connotations, but it certainly eggs you on, well it did the trick for me. I kept imagining myself receiving my degree on the stage at the Chichester Festival Theatre, and on 11th October 2002 that’s exactly what happened. So for me it worked, and still does work.

Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?

Oh yes there is! I don’t think that anyone writes in a vacuum, we all write from the world around us, from what we see and hear and do. Our imagination is our greatest tool, and I am just learning how to truly utilise mine.

Social media plays a great part too. Back in the day the writer had to rely on his/her nous to get their work into the public gaze, but with social media it’s much easier. Your post can go viral in no time at all, and that, as far as being an author goes, can only be a good thing; plus we all learn from each other, and support each other, and I like that.

Then there is indie publishing, which in itself is an innovation that didn’t exist back in the day, and the stigma that went with self-publishing, for the most part, no longer exists. The proof is in the quality of work that is out there, some exceeding main-line published authors. It’s an exciting time to be an author, of that there is no doubt.

How can readers discover more about you and you work?

Readers can discover more about me and my works at these links: blogFacebookTwitterAmazon Author PageSmashwords and Goodreads

Michelle Gent is editor/publisher at Gingernut Books Ltd and can be found at http://www.gingernutbooks.co.uk/d-michelle-gent.html.
Future Confronted was published and edited by Gingernut Books.



Friday, 15 August 2014

An Excerpt From 'The Touching of Stones' by Louise E Rule

The first in a planned trilogy set in the 14th century, The Touching of Stones tells the tale of a stone mason's family and will span across two countries and a continent. This excerpt tells of the bloodiness of war.



He looked down at the blood seeping through his ragged aketon, leaking dark, with a metallic odour drifting towards his nostrils. Flopping back against the tree, closing his eyes, he prayed urgently to the Madonna, pleading, desperately, for his life to be saved. He didn't want to die here in the mud and blood of the battlefield. The noise of fighting came and went as he drifted in and out of consciousness, like a dream, a terrible dream from which he hoped he would soon awake.
Flicking opened his eyes in panic, he studied the distorted shape coming towards him; a horse that appeared to be galloping in slow motion, clods of earth spinning from huge feathered hooves, a rider leaning forward in earnest.
He struggled to move, but was unable to, he tried to speak but his tongue lay fat and rough against the roof of his mouth. The rider knelt beside him with sorrow in his eyes; his friend was not long for this world. He supported his head while trying to give him a drink, but it just dribbled from the corners of his mouth. He tried to speak again, but only a gargling, guttural sound could be heard as blood dribbled down his chin. He tried, desperately, broken lips drawn back over his teeth, to draw a breath. He looked wide-eyed at his friend in despair, his blue eyes turned black and sightless, as his pupils dilated to their fullest as he passed from this world to the next.  His last exhaled breath hissed and frothed from his mouth. His head lolled to the left, his jaw hung askew; and there he lay with the stench of his piss and excrement fusing with the filth of battle. His war was over.

Bannockburn

Life was cheap on the battlefield, cheap enough for it to pass almost unnoticed. But they had been friends since childhood, shared many adventures and had entered this war keen to claim a victory for Scotland. He became aware of a shadow looming, but before he had a chance to turn around he felt a thrusting pain in his back and looked down to see the bloodied point of an anelace forcing its way steadily through his body. His breath hitched in his throat as he half stood; staggered sideways, glancing over his right shoulder in time to see the sneering face of the soldier who had just stolen his life. The world around him shrunk to a pinhole of light, he crumpled to the ground falling across the body of his friend.
They looked down at themselves lying in the filth, with soldiers laughing and thumping each other on their backs congratulating themselves for their courage in battle. One kicked at a body, another stamped on its head, splitting it wide and unrecognisable,merging the white matter with coagulating blood which gradually seeped into the noisome muck. The other they slashed and hacked to pieces in a frenzy, kicking each part from the other. The brutality of war turned men into beasts with a blood lust that was as virulent as the bubonic plague. Laughing and congratulating each other on their work, they mounted their horses and in an instant they re-joined the battle.

The friends looked at each other; the glow of their battle was extinguished. They drifted slowly above the mêlée, gradually dissolving into the heavens.

Louise E Rule


Louise is the author of Future confronted
Website: http://www.louiseeruleauthor.blogspot.co.uk/

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Louise E. Rule Writes About Wilfred Owen - War Poet and Soldier of World War I



Wilfred Edward Salter Owen MC 
(18th March 1893 - 4th November 1918)

Wilfred Owen


There is much written about the war poet, Wilfred Owen, all of it relevant to a man that died just one week, almost to the hour, before the end of Word War One - The Great War, the war to end all wars.

He was born on 18th March 1893, near Oswestry in Shropshire, to Thomas and Harriet Susan Owen. He was the eldest of four children.

It was during a holiday in Cheshire that Wilfred Owen discovered his vocation, around 1903/4

Wilfred Owen was twenty-two years-old when he enlisted in the Artists' Rifles Officers' Training Corps. He trained at Hare Hall Camp in Essex for seven months. He was commissioned on 4th June 1916, as a second Lieutenant (on probation) in the Manchester Regiment. 

While on active service he suffered a number of traumatic experiences, one being that he fell into a shell hole suffering concussion. Another time he was blown into the air by a trench mortar, and because of this event, he spent several days lying on an embankment in Savy Wood. He was later diagnosed as suffering from shell shock, or neurasthenia, as it was then referred to. He found himself in Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh for treatment. it was while he was there that he met Siegfried Sassoon, a fellow poet, who was to change Wilfred Owen's life.

At the end of August 1918, he returned to the front line. It was on 1st October of that year that he led units of the Second Manchesters to storm enemy points near Joncourt. His courage and leadership in this action led to him being awarded the Military Cross. The award was not published until 15th February 1919, and the citation didn't follow until 30th July 1919.


Quote: from The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31480. P. 9761

2nd Lt, Wilfred Edward Salter Owen, 5th Bn. Manch. R., T.F., attd. 2nd Bn.

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in the attack on the Fonsomme Line on October 1st/2nd, 1918. On the company commander becoming a casualty, he assumed command and showed fine leadership and resisted a heavy counter-attack. He personally manipulated a captured enemy machine gun from an isolated position and inflicted considerable losses on the enemy.

Throughout he behaved most gallantly.

Wilfred Owen returned to active service in France, against the wishes of his friend, Siegfried Sassoon, in July 1918. Sassoon had been sent back to England after he had been shot in the head, purported to have been a 'friendly fire' incident. He remained on sick-leave for the remainder of the war.

On 4th November 1918, while crossing the Sambre-Oise Canal, Wilfred Owen was killed in action, occurring exactly one week before the signing of the Armistice, almost to the hour. Wilfred Owen was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant the day after his death. His mother was informed of his death on Armistice Day. Wilfred Owen is buried at Ors Communal Cemetery.

If it hadn't have been for Wilfred Owen's poetry I wonder how many of us would have been aware of him. He would probably have merged together with all the other brave service men without his name known. His poetry is both profound and gritty, not sparing the reader from the horrors of the war. 

One of his best known poems, Dulce et Decorum est, tells of the horror of being gassed in the trenches with nowhere to escape, the only saving grace was to put on the gas mask as quickly as possible. Even then there was no certainty that you were going to live through it.


Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. 



The images that this conveys to the reader are ones of sheer panic, of despair, of a realisation that this could be their final hour. Imagine if you will, the first line of this poem. The warning! Imagine the men screaming to their comrades to put on their gas masks. Imagine them fumbling, trying to fit the clumsy helmets with hands shaking, hearts beating so fast, mouths dry with fear. Imagine...

Imagine also the yelling, the stumbling and the terror that these soldiers must have been feeling. We can't imagine it can we? We weren't there, but Wilfred Owen's words bring us as close as is possible to be so that we may have some kind of understanding of the horrors, all through is words.



If in some smothering dreams you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,



The perspicacity of these words impales the reader against the wall of the trenches, mouth agape, horror-stricken at what they see. [...white eyes writhing in his face,] and [...gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,]. The images are so explicit, so extraordinary as to be beyond the comprehension of one who was not there. All the way through this poem, Wilfred Owen grabs the reader by the collar, points at the soldiers, screaming at us to look, look at the horror, take it in, don't repeat it.. never repeat it. But we do... we do.

The final few lines of this poem are, to my mind, the most profound inasmuch as they are not only a warning, but also a revelation. It has, in past times, been seen as a path to Glory to fight in a war, to lay your life down for your country, to have your name on the local War Memorial. Wilfred Owen tells us that it is a lie, an old Lie.


My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori

The Latin loosely translates as: It is sweet and right to die for your country. I have to wonder how sweet the fallen felt it to be. The famous words are taken from the title of an ode by Horace, (Quintus Horatius Flaccus - 08.01.65 BC - 27.11.08 BC), The Odes Book III - Dulce Et Decorum Est.

Children usually believe everything that an adult tells them. An adult in uniform has a certain power, a certain authority; their words are going to have the most influence on young ears. To be told that It is sweet and right to die for your country, can only conjure up visions of extreme valour, the getting of medals for battles fought, to be remembered and honoured as brave, as a hero, as a name on a war memorial... But what of those left behind? What do they feel? How do they cope when there is no grave for them to visit? A loved-one who is buried beneath the mud, blood and mire of a battlefield  in a foreign land, never to be found, must feel like the destruction of one's soul.




George Santayana, another poet and essayist that I much admire,
wrote in The Life of Reason. 1905; 


Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

War, it would appear by the evidence all around the world, is a constant, a constant from which we fail to break free. For whatever reason these wars are being fought, they always come with a heavy price, the price of a life, many lives. Fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, sons, and daughters, the list is endless, families ruined, torn apart because of war.


The Armistice was signed at 05:00 and came into effect six hours later, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918. It was signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front. This we now call Remembrance Day, a day when we all take the time to remember all those who have lost their lives to keep ours free.





They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

(Middle verse of Ode of Remembrance
taken from Laurence Binyon's poem For The Fallen.)


Picture from the British Legion website

All other images are from Wikipedia


Louise E. Rule is author of Future Confronted
You can find Louise on Facebook and Twitter
And on her blog here
And on Goodreads