Saturday, 29 April 2017

Diana Talks to Ann Victoria Roberts

Ann Victoria Roberts is a dedicated and much loved author who hit the headlines as 'The Housewife who wrote a Bestseller'. She is the  author of five historical novels, set mainly in the late 19th/early 20th C, featuring strong, passionate characters and vivid settings.

I caught up with her long enough to hear her views on a lot of subjects. It was a true delight to talk to her

Q: Marmite? Love it or hate it?

A: I can eat it, but...

Q: Coffee or tea? Red or white?

A: Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon. Mostly red wine after 6pm – but chilled white when the temperature soars!

Q: What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?

A: For ‘Moon Rising’, it could only be red wine!

Q: First things first I am sure there is a question that you have always longed to be asked. Now is the chance. Ask your own question and answer it!

Q: As a writer who has been traditionally published and is now working independently, how do I see the advantages?

A: There may be no guarantees with a traditional publisher, but they have whole teams of people to do the background work, which is invaluable, especially for the first-time author. A downside is that traditional publishers now expect their authors to do a lot of the publicity themselves, especially re social media, blogging, talks, etc.

Indie writers don’t have to work to a deadline, nor are they pressured to keep coming up with ‘similar’ books – they can write the stories they want to tell. On the other hand, the indie writer has to handle everything, from finding a good editor and cover designer, to making publishing decisions. And that big bugbear – marketing! The background work is time-consuming and can be costly. So indie authors who make it into Amazon’s top-selling categories have my heartfelt admiration.

Q: Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something that you drifted into (or even something so compelling that it could not be denied?) How old were you when you first started to write seriously?

A: In the end it was a conscious decision, prompted by an incident that occurred in my teens. I was rooting through a stack of old books in Granny’s attic, when I came across the portrait photo of a handsome young soldier. The Australian uniform told me who he was – my grandfather’s brother, killed in Flanders in 1917. Moments later, from the same large envelope, his minutely-written WW1 diary fell into my hands.
Finding out why he’d gone to Australia, and how the places in his diary connected with the bigger picture of WW1, became something of an obsession – at a time when I was supposed to be studying for exams! I even started writing a story about him – never finished, but the idea refused to go away.
Marriage to a sea-captain meant that I was often at home alone for several months. While I was expecting our first child, I wrote a contemporary novel, which earned nothing but rejection slips. It was disheartening, but a few years later, at just the right moment, the WW1 soldier’s diary and photograph came into my possession.

I knew the chances of publication were slim, but by that time I felt driven to write the story anyway. Needing background, I started researching the soldier’s history in earnest, discovering quite a few skeletons in the family cupboard along the way. The journey was signposted by some very strange coincidences – taking me away from the soldier, and towards his parents’ generation. It was too much for a sketched-in background – it had to be upfront, a story in itself. So that original idea became two books.

Five years later, to my astonishment, everyone loved the first one. ‘Louisa Elliott’, set largely in 1890s York, became an international bestseller. At 700 pages, it’s a big book by today’s standards, with a triangular love story and closely-guarded family secrets at the heart of it. Very much a Victorian novel, but with surprisingly modern themes.
The follow-up, ‘Liam’s Story’, was based in part on the WW1 diary, but I found the only way to tell his tale was as a dual-time novel, with lovers in the present day tracking down the truth behind a tragic love affair in the past. There’s also a paranormal element to the story, which echoes the strange experiences I had while researching the two Elliott novels.

Q: What made you choose this genre?

A: History has fascinated me from childhood, probably because regular visits ‘home’ to see Granny in York, were full of excitement. There, history was all around me – and nowhere closer than in Granny’s attic, with its old books and bound collections of Victorian women’s magazines, full of serial stories and beautiful illustrations. Reading them kept me occupied while the adults were busy talking. It probably explains why I’m most comfortable writing about the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While researching, I enjoy discovering what was going on in the world at the time, and how it might impact on my characters and the plot I’m constructing.

Q: If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!) you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?

A: A good question. Even though my first two novels were marketed as romance, they don’t fit easily into the genre – they are darker and more realistic. I’ve always written what inspired me at the time, and with a creepy ghost story, a gothic romance, and a seafarer’s tale under my belt, I’d say all are cross-genre with character-driven plots, which doesn’t make them easy to market.

I’ve been editing and re-issuing my back list in recent years, ‘Moon Rising’ being the latest.  But my current WIP is the story of a 60-year-old widow, who is contacted by an old flame, asking difficult questions about the past. Not yet ready to say more than that!

Q: If ‘Moon Rising’ was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?

A: Back in 2000, when it was first published, there was talk of a film with Liam Neeson – which sadly, came to nothing. Then, he would have been ideal. Maybe someone could suggest a younger actor, just in case we should need one now?

Q: How do you get ideas for plots and characters?

A: It’s always a flash moment, sparked by something I’ve seen or read – like the WW1 diary. Entries in the 1912 Southampton Dockmaster’s Log Book, inspired ‘The Master’s Tale’, my novel about Captain Smith and the Titanic.

‘Moon Rising’ began with an 1886 photo of a Russian sailing ship wrecked below Whitby Abbey, and the related newspaper report of a terrific storm. That set me on the trail of Bram Stoker and his novel, ‘Dracula’ – and Whitby’s legends, which seem to have inspired so much of the content. And so began a tale of passion & possession…

Q: Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??

A: Must clear the decks if I’ve been away from writing for a while, so I can have an uninterrupted week or two with my characters. I write in silence, but play music at other times. Some classical, but I love old pop songs – certain lyrics are very evocative.  For instance, ‘The Power of Love’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and Annie Lennox’s ‘Love Song for A Vampire,’ were great for ‘Moon Rising’!

Q: I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters?

A: Family has always come first. I was virtually a ‘single mum’ while my children were growing up. Their Dad was away at sea, but then he’d come home for two or three months, so he wanted my attention too! Now I’m a granny, I try to put my characters first, but it doesn’t always work.

Q: How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way?

A: When I get the first inspiration, I know how and where the story starts, and usually I know how it ends – what remains is plotting the route to get there. After the first draft – lots of editing!

Q: Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?

A: Bram Stoker’s letters – but after his death his wife burned them…

Q: Have any of your characters ever shocked you and gone off on their own adventure leaving you scratching your head??? If so how did you cope with that!?

A: No, but I’ve often had to hold them back – they were too eager to take short cuts!

Q: How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips?

A: To me, facts are vital – like a skeleton supporting the flesh of fiction. So masses of research – and lots of research trips. Nowadays it’s easy to find the basics on line, but I never take anything as gospel unless I’ve checked it elsewhere. And nothing beats original documents – or indeed, a visit to the places where characters lived and worked. I was fortunate to be living in Whitby for three months while researching ‘Moon Rising’.

For ‘The Master’s Tale – a novel of the Titanic’, I had my husband on hand for the technical detail, and in younger days spent many months at sea with him. So I’ve had first-hand experience of how it feels to live within a small community of men, virtually cut off from the real world. As a writer I found that very useful when writing about my male characters!

Q: Fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot?

A: No – my ‘real’ characters have often been the mainstay of the story. Hence the need to get them right. But I have been known to kill off fictional characters to improve the plot!

Q: Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this?

A: If a novelist is writing about real people, often there just isn’t enough beyond basic facts to make a rounded character. Depending on how much is known, it’s a balance between probability and possibility. My aim is to do them justice. Not to present them as flawless, but as human beings like you and me – doing their best but not always succeeding.

I took liberties with the family history to make both ‘Louisa Elliott’ and ‘Liam’s Story’ more compelling for the reader, but in portraying the main characters I stuck closely to what I’d been told about them. So it was as though I knew them even before I started writing.

With regard Bram Stoker, I read three biographies to get a balanced view of his life as lawyer and business manager to Sir Henry Irving, the famous actor – and also his work as a writer. Like my portrayal of Captain Smith in ‘The Master’s Tale’, I hope that in reconstructing real events – and interpreting their actions – I’ve cast light on both these men as human beings.

Incidentally, in ‘Moon Rising’ and ‘The Master’s Tale’, both Stoker and Smith are under pressure from their employers – and I think we can all identify with that. Captain Smith tells his own story, but we see Stoker through the eyes of the young woman he meets in Whitby – a woman whose life is also at a crossroads. She’s the one recounting the story of their relationship and its aftermath. So we see Stoker’s actions, but only through dialogue do we get an idea of his motivations.

Q: Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?

A: Totally. In trying to ascribe character and motive to ‘real’ people, inevitably the writer is using life experience and/or observation of similar people and situations to make the story credible. And to move the plot forward.

Q: Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?

A: I’ve had my moments of hating the ‘baddies’ – particularly Stoker’s employer, the actor, Sir Henry Irving. But I’ve always loved my main characters, despite their all-too-human faults. I even fell in love for a while with Robert Duncannon, the anti-hero of ‘Louisa Elliott’ (a sexy, attractive cavalry officer) and I loved Liam Elliott absolutely. After almost ten years of living with his presence through two books, I was heartbroken when ‘Liam’s Story’ came to an end.
Can’t say I loved Stoker unreservedly – he was a man in crisis through much of the story. But as for Captain Smith – oh, my goodness, deep, deep sympathy…

Q: Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?

A: I still paint a bit between books, and I travel a lot, but really, writing is and always was my first love.

Q: What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?

A: Mysteries, thrillers, detective stories both modern and historical – probably because I couldn’t possibly write one. Robert Harris is a favourite, also Val McDermid – and at the moment I’m enjoying Ann Swinfen’s historical mysteries.

Q: Last but not least... favourite author?

A: Difficult one – I read all the time and I’ve loved so many. When I was younger, my favourites ran from Thomas Hardy, through Mary Stewart and Daphne du Maurier to John le CarrĂ©. More recently, Patrick Gale and Susan Fletcher have caught my attention with the quality of their writing. But new authors are coming along all the time – if I ever retire, I’ll spend all my time reading!

Ann Victoria Roberts.

Born in York, Ann now lives in Southampton with her Master Mariner husband. The busy port with its historic associations provided inspiration for her fifth novel, THE MASTER'S TALE, in which Captain Smith of the TITANIC tells his story from beyond the grave. © Diana Milne January 2017 © Ann Victoria Roberts – 26th March 2017








Wednesday, 26 April 2017

PAULA READS: Under The Approaching Dark by Anna Belfrage

This is the third novel in acclaimed Anna Belfrage's series the King's Greatest Enemy and so far I believe this to be the best.

The author has kindly donated an ebook to one lucky winner. All you have to do is leave a comment after the post or on our Facebook page  and the draw will take place on Wednesday 3rd of May! Good luck!

Edward II is held prisoner at Kenilworth Castle, having been dethroned by his queen, Isabella, and her lover, Lord Mortimer. Handsome and courageous knight, Adam de Guirande is waiting to travel to Westminster leaving his fiery wife, Kit, at home in Tresaints, nursing her newborn son, Ned. Things are not the happiest at court, for the young Prince Edward is not overjoyed that his father is a prisoner, and relations with his mother and Lord Roger have cooled somewhat. Things are about to become more complicated, as Prince Edward is soon to become a king, and then the problem of what to do with the old king arises, especially when rebellion rears its ugly head. As usual, Adam and Kit are dragged unwillingly into the very centre of the conflict. It is not long before they find that their lives are in danger. Those loyal to Edward Snr, plan to rescue him, and an old enemy turns up to exact his revenge from them, in the most terrible and horrific way.

As I said in my opening sentence, I believe this to be the best in the series so far. The King's Greatest Enemy series has got better with each book. The first two are true nail-biters, unequivocal in the way they keep you turning the page well past your bedtime! If a book can't keep me wanting more, and not want to sleep until I've read one more page, or one more chapter, then all I can say is, its not as good as it should be. The King's Greatest Enemy series has that quality, however this, the third, has a slower, but surer pace. There is a much slower build up of the tension, but because I have already read the first two books, I am waiting, just waiting, for the 'fun' to start and for me to find myself whipped up into a roller coaster ride of heart-stopping havoc. You feel you are stepping onto a knife edge, knowing something is coming, but you don't know when. I can honestly say, that its a rare quality in a book, I find, that can make me feel a sense of joy when I read, but this book does that for me.

The author knows her period well, and is able to weave the salient points into the story with ease and skill, and without feeling that she has to info dump in all the historical detail, thus spoiling the story. The characters of Kit and Adam are extremely likable, and expertly drawn, and I have to confess that I prefer this Kit of earlier. She is maturer, and with that maturity has come wisdom and gentle forbearance, which she did not possess before. Adam has grown into the man he was destined to be, strong, honest, possessing the moral fibre expected of a knight. But he also has his sensitive side, which the author allows him to show, every once in a while. Even the minor and supporting characters have all grown, either for the worst or the better. An example is Mortimer, once that shining example of a goodness, whom Adam had looked up to all his life and has become somewhat tainted by his own success, but is humanly played by this author's version of him.
The author's prose is not sunk into a quagmire of archaic mud, but is written using a mixture of modern and olde-worldy, though there is more of the new than the old. For those who prefer more of the use of antiquated language, they may not be happy with some of the phrases, but for me, I would prefer to understand than have to wade through a marsh of obsolete words.
This book has more romance than battle in it, but it is not a 'ladies book' full of sickly romance and corny sex. There are many facets that make up the story, one of them being intrigue and murder, and I dare any reader to not find it to their liking unless they are only interested in blood, guts and gore and no story.
As I said, romance plays a big part in this book, and I must be honest, I'm not a fan of the historical romance genre, however this is not like the usual romantic yarns where the relationship between 2 people is at the core of the narrative. Despite all the other aspects that fill the pages, Kit and Adam's love for each other still manages to shine through the deceit, the greed and the immoral hypocrisy of the times, and it is easy to see how the Mr & Mrs Beckhams of the 14thc are fast becoming everyone's favourite couple. I absolutely adore them.

Google the words Historical fiction definition, and this is the first search that comes up as defined by which says: Historical Fiction is defined as movies and novels in which a story is made up but is set in the past and sometimes borrows true characteristics of the time period in which it is set. A novel that makes up a story about a Civil War battle that really happened is an example of historical fiction.
Under the Approaching Dark fulfills this simple explanation, being a made up story, set in the 14thc against the true characteristics of the period and with true historical events as its background. Within this scope, Ms Belfrage had added other elements, one being the love story of two people who were initially thrown together against their wills and defy the odds and fall hopelessly in love. There are, of course, included within the narrative true events, and there is hatred, betrayal, danger and adventure also thrown into the mix. Through the eyes of our two love-birds, Kit and Adam, we are able to see how the affect of Lord Mortimer's affair with the wife of the deposed king, Edward II, plays out, causing rifts within the kingdom, amongst the nobles and between the young king Edward III and his mother. Essentially, Ms Belfrage is very cleverly killing two birds with one stone, by appealing to those who love the romance aspect of the story and to those who like the history and the characteristics of the world. Perhaps one characteristic in particular being the pugnacious world of knights, male camaraderie and the violence of the era.
Trying to write historical fiction that pleases everyone can sometimes be a thankless task, for some people might pick on this word, or that word, as not belonging to that era. In my opinion, as long as someone does not write, for example, "oh golly gosh", then I'm generally ok with modern language being used. Ms Belfrage, in my opinion, uses just about the right mix for something written in this time. Most importantly, I 'get' it and it doesn't ruin my experience like some books I have read that read like Shakespeare.
Now, I know that there are some readers who skim through sex scenes for whatever their own reasons might be. When writing something romantic, is it right that in whatever era, we should ignore what happens behind closed doors, after all, it is often shown very graphically on film and TV, these days? (I wonder if people skim the sex scenes in films also?)...Not in this book, though, does the author shy away from sex. Miss Belfrage is a skillful writer of romance and sex. If you take the time to read some of her beautiful scenes, you will see that there is more to them than just two people humping each other. Skillfully, Ms Belfrage will engage the reader in these scenes by allowing them to assimilate the emotions of the characters. And, because the relationship between Kit and Adam is such an important aspect of the story, to skip these scenes is like missing a whole set of episodes in a TV series, you will lose the essence of the story. These scenes are some of the most tenderest ever written by an author and if there were an award for such a thing, Ms Belfrage would win it.
...He touched his lips to hers, a chaste caress, no more. "Can we stop talking about this?"
She nodded, her eyes luminous pools of darkness.
"Good."  This time, he kissed her until there was no air left in his lungs, until his blood pounded through his veins and all he could think was of her.

Belfrage shows the story through Kit and Adam's point of view only, so at least one or the other is in every scene. As mentioned before, the couple have grown and matured throughout the books and whereas I have always loved Adam, I was not totally enamoured by Kit in the beginning. I did like her character, however she was often complaining about something to do with Adam, and not always without cause, but once everyone could see how much Adam loved her, she continued to accuse him wrongly of being unfaithful and I wanted to jump right in the book and slap her silly face! She was also quite wilful, and for some strange reason I didn't like it too much, however, toward the end of the last book, I was warming to her and once I'd settled into Under the Approaching Dark, I decided that I liked her a lot more. She has matured, and although she is still fiery and passionate, I feel it is appropriately channelled. Truthfully, I think there is a lot about Kit that reminds me of myself! Apart from her beauty and red hair of course!
One of the other things I liked most about this book is Belfrage's use of dialogue. The author clearly adept at using appropriate dialogue and not resorting to 'telling' the story, which for me, is often a lazy way of writing because you don't have to work as hard when crafting relationships between characters, or designing an exciting scene. You can feel the tension as Mortimer and the young King Edward cross words:
"Are you unhurt, my lord? Adam's hands flew over the king's arms, his head. 
"Leave me alone!" Edward shook him off, but not before Adam felt the tremors running through him...Edward's face was streaked with mud and dominated by wide eyes. His hair was a mess, the fine linen of his shirt torn and dirty.
"What are you waiting for?" the king asked, eyes darting from one dead man to the other. "Sit up and ride.Ride, damn it, and kill every single one of them."
"They have the advantage." Mortimer handed his sword to one of his squires. "We ride against them, they slaughter us."
"I did  not take you for craven," Edward said. There was a collective intake of breath. Mortimer took one long step towards the king, who sidled away from him.
"What did you say?" Lord Roger's voice dropped dangerously low.
"I called you craven." Edward straightened up.
"No man has ever called me that and lived. Count yourself fortunate you're nothing but an untried lad." Mortimer nudged at the closest corpse. "He died for you, my liege. so did tens of others. And you would waste more lives just to soothe your wounded pride?" 
This book is beautifully crafted by an author who has won many awards, including IndieBRAG, and Indie author award from the HNS. You just cannot go wrong with a book that has been created by someone with such an accolade. Under the Approaching Dark  is the perfect recipe for an historical fiction novel, it has it all going on: kings, queens, knights, conflict, damsels in distress and villains who need destroying. All this against a well-researched historical background of an era I neither knew nor cared little about but now feel that this may be one of the most interesting eras.
Ms Belfrage writes exceptionally well, and there is never a boring or dull moment as we allow ourselves to be immersed in the fascinating world of the 14thc. I highly recommend this book to all no matter what genre you prefer, because as a book, it is a joy to read.

About the Author

I was always going to be a writer - well in between being an Arctic explorer, a crusader or Richard Lionheart's favourite page (no double entendre intended - I was far too innocent at the time) Anyway, not for me the world of nine to five, of mortgages and salary checks. Oh no; I was going to be a free spirit, an impoverished but happy writer, slaving away in a garret room.

Life happened. (It does, doesn't it?) I found myself the bemused holder of a degree in Business Admin, and a couple of years later I was juggling a challenging career, four kids, a husband (or was he juggling me?) a jungle of a garden, a dog, a house ... Not much time for writing there, let me tell you. At most, I stole a moment here or there.

Fortunately, kids grow up. My stolen moments became hours, became days, weeks, months... (I still work. I no longer garden - one must prioritise) It is an obsession, this writing thing. It is a joy and a miracle, a constant itch and an inroad to new people, new places, new times.

You can find Anna at her Website
And you can buy her books here

Paula Lofting is the author of Sons of the Wolf and The Wolf Banner 
You can also find me at my blog
1066: The Road to Hastings and Other stories

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Diana talks to ... (wait for it!) ... herself!!

Hi Diana! What are you doing talking to yourself like this?
It is the best way I know to get an intelligent answer every time!!
I am indulging myself as it is fair to say that today is the birthday of one of the best loved and extraordinary people of all time.

((Sings Happy birthday to herself in off key contralto...))
It is also Shakespeare’s birthday!
Seriously, so many people have said, Di, you are everywhere around literary groups, but who are you? - some have not put quite it so politely! – so here is my attempt to let you all get to know me a bit better.
(Well. Not *all*. You know who you are! You know me quite well enough!)
First things first I am sure there is a question that you have always longed to be asked. Now is the chance. Ask your own question and answer it!
Not so much a question as an explanation of sorts. So many people query why I do not write, when I obviously love it and occasionally show an aptitude for putting words together and forming a series of sentences.
Many years ago I was young. This was not a unique experience as I find this is a stage of life that has happened to everyone.

Except possibly my Uncle Derrick.  But let us not talk about him ...
My first ambition when I was about three was to be a mummy ‘because the daddies had to go out and do work and I didn’t want to ever do work; I wanted to stay at home and drink tea all day and have fun messing around.’
Hmm. I wonder how that would have worked out for me???
Anyway, by the age of seven I had discovered reading and I mean discovered it big time. Every hour I was able, I buried myself in a book. It is fair to say that my childhood was mostly spent living vicariously on Kirren Island and in the Five Find Outers Shed! Ultimately, being a diffident and lonely child, I wanted to write my own adventure stories and, with ruthless efficiency, and a yellow plastic pen I loved, I created villains and heroes, buried treasure and lost dogs...
At last I felt I was living!I had friends. I had a life!
Then the time came for the careers talk with the headmistress. The other girls were going in and stammering, ‘Well, Miss, I s’pose I could work in Woolworth’s’ or ‘Can I cut hair, Miss?’ or, ‘I’m gonna get married and have lots of babbies like me mam...’
I knew what I wanted to do! My ambition was great! I was going to be an author!
I strode in and announced my dream to the formidable, black robe clad  figure.
She glared at me over her half moon glasses. ‘Don’t be silly, Diana. Authors are ladies of means who live in cottages in Cornwall. If you want to do something with the English Language, TEACH IT!’
Needless to say, I never wrote and I never, ever taught!
My ambition was extinguished with those words and only this past two years has it gradually reawaken.
Completely by accident about a month ago, following a chance humorous remark by author Paula Lofting, I began to write what was to be a one off excerpt... but it grew! It will probably never turn into a novel, but I am enjoying every second of this writing process.  So. Maybe one day!
If your series of excerpts (ahem) with the working title ‘Monkey Mating in the Andes’ was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?
This lady is not an actress, but an exceptional writer. Manda Scott would play Helen so perfectly.
What made you choose this genre? How do you get ideas for plots and characters?
Um...I had to fit a plot around Paula Lofting’s comment about Monkey Mating! The rest just grew. I was very surprised when the whole thing got highjacked by an Ecuadorian drug cartel. I didn’t intend them being in the story!
If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!)  you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?
A vague idea. Prehistoric Cornwall; iron age trading routes between the continent and the Cornish tin mines.
Marmite? Love it or hate it?
Mmmmm. Love Marmite, but totally absolutely adore Bovril (though it is not quite so nice now the ingredients have been changed)
Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??
I’m too new to this to have developed any routine. When I am making research notes or writing notes for a review, I always use a pencil - may be because I can never find a pen! It is just a shame that I don’t keep all my notes in just one note book. They are spread between odd scraps of paper, the backs of receipts, about five notebooks (depending on which room I am in, the programme from the play I saw last February and (occasionally) on tissues and train tickets.
I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters?
I live alone. Maybe the reason I live alone is that work to me is generally the most important driving force to me!
Hmm. I just realised! It could, however, be argued that if I did not live alone, I would not need the driving force of work!
Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?
I do it! I run a business selling vintage printing equipment, mainly from the Victorian and Edwardian eras. I have done this full time for ten years now. I love it. Click here to find out more about my business, 'd.arcadian'.

Coffee or tea? Red or white?
Preferably the strongest possible coffee, all day every day, but as it no long seems to suit me I have about one cup every six weeks....So tea it is. I don’t drink alcohol, but I drink litres and litres of sparkling water with fresh lime juice.
If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose? As my main job is as a Letterpress Seller (extraordinaire), one would think I would have an amazing idea up my sleeve. I have, but it is nothing to do with printing!
Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?
My father’s will. Long story. Nuff said. ((Sad face))
How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips? I am too new to writing to have gone on a research trip yet, but a year or so ago, I did begin to adopt the habit of a journalist friend of mine, who was doing a Creative Writing course. The idea was to make copious notes of every experience and trip so that when you needed to write a scene about *There* you had the back up notes already done.
Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this?
No. I hate finding factual errors in a fiction book. It demeans the whole book and makes me view it all with suspicion.
Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred? In my life or in my writing? In my life, yes. All the time. In writing, no. I keep a very clear line between the two.
What do you enjoy reading for pleasure? Books, mainly. Condiment labels. Menus... Road signs.
Favourite living author?
CW Lovatt. His command of the English language and his mastery of primary, secondary and tertiary plots are exceptional. I am genuinely unsure whether MJ Logue comes joint first or a very close second with her extraordinary story telling ability and vivid characters

Now I have some questions sent to me by Review readers.

What do y’all look for in non fiction history/biography that make it a good one for you?
The author has to be able to make me care about the subject. Dr Ian Mortimer’s 1415: Henry V's Year of Glory, grabbed me on page one and kept me page turning right until the end. The book awoke a passion for discovering more about Henry V and this era that still exists.

Now a question from Angela: I would like to ask what makes you laugh, but your reply would be too long. lol x
It is easier to tell you what does ‘not’ make me laugh. Comedy! Comedic films. Sit com. Almost all stand up. Panel shows that are meant to be humorous and just seem to me banal.
Oh. One more. Mrs Brown.
I did, however, laugh like a drain at one of Aristophanes' plays when I read it in the original language. It was hilarious and totally untranslatable.
Perhaps I am a bit strange!

Jayne asked: what made you join the Review and take on this task?

I was in hospital at the time with a badly broken leg. I think maybe the morphine warped my thinking a little!
Strangely I decided voluntarily to start *Diana talks* and I love every second of it. It began by me deciding to go to HNS16 in Oxford. I wondered what I could do, that would be of value to the Review, with all these authors in one place at the same time. After I had ruled out the idea of the Bacchanalia on the grounds that it may not be of use to the Review, I decided to talk at them...

From Liz: Looking back from where you are now, what would you say to yourself when you didn’t think it was possible? Generally something like FFS. Get a grip woman!  Strangely, I was the last person to know what a strong woman I am.

Which fictional character have you liked the least.
Seargent Bell, in Josiah Stubb; The Siege of Louisbourg by C.W Lovatt. Most characters have redeeming features. Bell has no redeeming quality whatsoever.

Trust Paula to come up with this one!
Who lights your fire and who puts it out?
I have an open fireplace and a beautiful dog grate set into the hearth.
At the moment, my fire needs kindling and a nice, big stick. No further comment!

© Diana Milne April 2017








Wednesday, 19 April 2017

!Aly - by Peter Cane: reviewed by Diana Milne

The author is generously donating  paper copy of this book as a prize in the draw. To enter, please leave a comment on the blog itself, or in the comments section below in either the Review or the Review Blog.
It is worth having!

The opening pages of !Aly are compelling, dragging the reader in, almost against their will, with an air of mystery and promise and slight but tangible menace that thrills the soul and makes one want to know more, but with the warning that once read this can never be unread...
Taking a little known and never before written about character depicted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, first time author Peter Cane weaves a spell binding story around this Moorish slave figure,     revealing not only who his father is, but his owner and combining all the well known artists and personages of the era in a gripping multi layered story that will leave fans of the Da Vinci Code hanging on to every word.
In a friendly and confiding monologue style, reminiscent of Moshin Hamid at his best, Cane explores the personal lives and relationships of   more known names than are in Brett’s Peerage, showing how they interweave and shapeshift to suit their purposes.
Meticulously researched, the book takes us travelling and much of the action is set on the benighted island of Hispaniola, where the inhabitants were exterminated by explorers who are also deeply involved and entwined in the saga. Not only is the plot multi layered and complex, but the characters are also multilayered and no one is who they really seem to be.  It is the story of an enigma in a conundrum wrapped up in a puzzle! In addition the book can be read on many levels, each reader finding his or her own truth and story within its pages.
Fleeing from a heinous act, perpetrated to save his young cousin from rape, the protagonist Aly escapes to the afore mentioned Hispaniola and whilst on board ship he muses on the duality of good versus evil, a theme that recurs throughout the tome, at one point ‘proving’ that all evil can be justified by the Bible. The reader is aware that Aly’s status is that of a slave, but as he has previously hinted that his father is a very famous artist, the exact nature of his standing is ambiguous. We glean that names to these people (as yet mostly unidentified) are not used as identifiers but as tools to further their cause, an unusual stance that becomes clearer as the book progresses.
Written in beautiful language with the assured confidence of a writer of many years standing, it is a surprise to find that this is Peter Cane’s first book. He masterfully displays his knowledge of the Bible and Biblical religion, Mythology, history, art and artists and the execution of art works, languages, geography and even touches on Leonardo’s philosophy of painting, without ever the reader feeling they are being lectured to. We are treated to a look at Erasmus’ satire about Pope Julius and a fascinating look at his life and then, interspersed with the more learned elements, we have a poetically beautiful description of nature, slotted in with the ease of a good wordsmith.
This novel is a tour de force that needs to be read.
You may read Peter Merlin Cane's  blog here.
You may buy the book here Aly

About the concept behind the book and a short (ish) biography of Peter Cane
In 2012 something quite unexpected, and not entirely welcome, fell in my lap. I had long been intrigued by why we feel what we feel when we look at art, and I even participated in the birth of a new field of study – that of Bioaesthetics. It’s about our innate sensory triggers, triggers which when activated create emotions and urges… drives such as fear, and the need to take a step back - or the compulsion to reach out and fondle… or that simply make us stop in our tracks, freeze, hold our breaths and stare in astonishment - tension triggers, that is.​While trying to figure out how these work, I was seeking flexed curves, taut coils and tight twists, in particular in Michelangelo’s sculptures - or trying to, but being a bit inept in my choice of Google words, all I got was images of his ‘Creation of Adam’, painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Try as I might, God insisted in reaching out to spark Adam into life. And then the penny dropped – that pregnant gap between the two soaring fingers was just what I was looking for... it was the focal point of the entire ceiling, and maybe the most famous and most effective tension trigger in the history of Art.

And then everything went pear-shaped. I saw something else in the sky that most certainly should not have been there. Having done a fair amount of research into camouflage, I began to suspect that Michelangelo had hidden it there to get his own back on the patron who had forced him to paint his ceiling, His Holiness the Pope. So I did the standard digital enhancement one does when trying to crack that sort of disguise, and sure enough (although I rarely admit to this part of the story now), I was faced with what seemed to be… well, I can’t repeat politely what it was, enough to say it was floating in the clouds behind Adam’s hand.

Somewhat nonplussed, I did the same enhancement on that celebrated space between the two fingers, and to my amazement, there slowly emerged a string of letters. They spelt the word ‘chiave’, Italian for ‘key’. And it was indeed the key, the key to the utterly unimaginable, and shockingly true meaning of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. And that, and the far larger and even more devastating secret that then emerged, is what gave rise to my discovery of Aly.

But you wanted to know about me… well, just turned 70, a figure that I believe only when – despite all my efforts – I catch sight of myself in the mirror. Buried beneath the wrinkles, and beyond the wish to leave this world a better place, though, is a 20 year-old, determined to live life to the full, travel (and think) broadly, and be part of everything new and exciting. So - until a few years ago I lived on the Tropic of Capricorn, where I used to bump into porcupines and opossums when walking the Beagle or the Husky late at night; I would listen to cicadas; sigh and foment sedition when my children were told in school that a European 'discovered' Brazil; got told off by my wonderful partner for not wearing my hearing aid at the dinner table; and ate far too much chocolate. Now I live in Canada, and still walk the dogs, but stay away from the path by the stream at night where the skunks hang out. And the beavers - if those teeth could fell a tree, I'm keeping my distance from them too.


And the name? Peter Cane is a nom-de-plume, alas, but an illustrious one. I named myself after a little dog in one of Jan van Eyck’s paintings, one who heard everything that went on… loved everyone who was kind to him… and knew everybody’s secrets!

This review has been written by Diana Milne © April 2017
More on the subject was written by Jeff de Cuisine in this blog about Anne of Cleeves.