Author Interview ~ Fran Clark

Today SSV welcomes Fran Clark, a professional singer and songwriter, and now the author of Holding Paradise – a novel of mother, daughter, and their search for connection. Fran was born and currently lives in West London. She is studying for a Creative Writing MA at Brunel University. Recently, she released her second album of original songs. She is now working towards the completion of her second novel. Fran talked to me about her novel and her writing.

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Fran, please tell us about your book and where you got your inspiration for it? Why did you feel you had to tell this story?
Holding Paradise is about love, trust, betrayal. It explores relationships and takes us from the Caribbean to London and back again. I was inspired by my mother’s stories about life in the Caribbean that I compared to that of someone raised in London, as I was. That sparked an idea about the lives of two women from different worlds.

What did you enjoy the most about writing it?
I think the thing that was most satisfying was my relationship with the characters. They lived with me for almost three years – the time it took me to write it. I watched them grow and they helped me move the narrative along into places I may not necessarily have planned.

Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or is it all imagination?
In some respects, there are similarities, but I would have to say that it was important to infuse more imagination into the story than real life. Who wants to read about real life anyway? Most of us are pretty boring. A novel is a place to escape real life.

What do you think about research? Did your book require lots of it? How do you research?
I recently wrote a post about research. I think it is absolutely necessary if it adds to the authenticity of your story. As writers we need to achieve a believable sense of time, place and setting. Imagination alone is not always going to get you there. If historical detail is needed then you need to get your facts straight. Holding Paradise did not need a lot of research, and I was able to find answers by talking to family and reading up on the time the novel is set. Research can be very exciting but you don’t want your fiction to sound like a history book. Making the researched material flow into the narrative is important.

Have you ever hated something you wrote?
Well hate is a strong word but I certainly disliked many attempts at writing along the way. I write short stories and some of them should never see the light of day. I have two novels filed away on my laptop that I’m sure I will never resurrect although I may borrow some of the better ideas within them some day.

What are some things you learned from writing this book?
Mostly I learned that I love to write. I haven’t always wanted to be a writer. I am a singer-songwriter, and music has always been my passion. I’m happy when I’m making music and can’t imagine my life without it. And that is exactly how I feel about my writing now too.

What do you think about editors: writers’ best friends or necessary evil? What was your experience with editors?
Yikes – don’t get me started.  Pretty sure I’ve written a post about this on my blog too! Firstly I have to say editors are completely necessary. All top writers have them and so should all the rest of us. I get tired of reading awful grammar and typos in books. Those writers who feel they don’t need them are mistaken. Writing is a lonely job but to make your writing really work you need to bring in expert help. I didn’t always see eye to eye with my editor about some of the changes he wanted to make but with compromise we worked it through and he absolutely improved on a few aspects of my writing.

What’s next? What are you working on now?
I’m in the middle of writing my second novel. Unfortunately it is taking a bit of a back seat because of family commitments and the heavy workload from my Creative Writing MA. But I intend to finish it this year. Lots of research is needed for this story, so I need to get stuck in and get it written. I’m really looking forward to completing it – having a second novel will make me feel truly initiated into the title of writer.

What is your writing environment (a quiet room, a coffee shop, loud music, etc)?
I usually need as much quiet as I can get. I sometimes write late at night when everyone else is tucked up in bed or in the early hours of the morning when everyone else is still asleep. As a bad sleeper this tends to work for me. But it must be said that I can lose myself in my writing and whether I have music playing softly in the background, or the television is loud in the room next door, I can click away at the keys and not notice anything else.

When did you first tell yourself: I’m a writer?
That didn’t happen until I let other people read my work. The feedback I got from the first readers of Holding Paradise was very encouraging but it wasn’t until I paid for a professional critique. After I read the report I thought, ‘Hey, a professional has read this and didn’t laugh out loud.’ It was a positive report and to have someone I didn’t know speak about my work like that made me want to pat myself on the back: I had arrived.

Are you scared of sharing ideas – so nobody could steal them?
That has never really occurred to me. It is often said that there are no new stories or plots and in many respects that’s true. The important thing is the telling of the story and that’s what sells books. I focus on my storytelling and making sure I’m writing something that is worth reading. That’s all I can do. If someone has to steal ideas, then that’s pretty sad, don’t you think?

What do you do when a new idea pops up in your head while you’re working on something else?
Notebooks. The writer’s friends. Jot all your ideas down. You can come back to them anytime and by recording it you’ll never forget the idea. But there is no problem with writing more than one story at a time. Some writers prefer to work that way while others find they have to focus on one. I’m a multi-tasker but I don’t think I could work on two novels at once. I can fit in the odd short story and my assignments for University but that’s about all. That’s more than enough if you want to do your writing justice.

What tips do you have for aspiring writers?
Just start. Be dedicated and persevere. There will always be difficult times and times when you feel you are writing rubbish. But that’s what editing is for. As long as you are passionate about your story then the ideas will come. See if you can finish the whole piece, that is do a complete first draft, without the input of others. When you get to second draft stage, then get opinions as those can sometimes help you improve your writing. Trust your own opinions too. Don’t assume that because someone doesn’t like something about your story that it is wrong. Writing should never feel like hard work. I’ve spent some really happy times just tapping away on my laptop.

 

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Holding Paradise

On a grey and miserable morning in 2008, London businesswoman Angelica Ford boards a plane and flies off to the blues and greens of her mother’s island in the Caribbean. Angelica is desperate. She is looking for a way to save her marriage and win back her daughter. A web of lies has torn a hole into her seemingly perfect world and she is convinced that only her mother, Josephine Dennis, can help her turn her life around.

Josephine Dennis arrived in England by ship on a cold winter morning as a young mother joining her husband. She weathers a lifetime of secrets and betrayal, as she raises her family in 1960s London. A matriarch with strong family values, she told her children colorful stories to guide them through life. It is the wisdom of one of these stories that Angelica seeks. Josephine has one last story to tell – the story that could change both of their lives.

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Fran will have her online book launch on Friday April 25 on her website, from 9am to 9pm GMT. See details on her blog to sign up for the party and a chance to win a copy of Holding Paradise. You can also view the book trailer on Youtube.

 

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The Palace Job ~ Patrick Weekes

  • Title:  The Palace Job
  • Author:  Patrick Weekes
  • Genre:  Fantasy
  • Format:  eBook
  • Source:  NetGalley
  • Reviewed by: Sonja
  • Rating:  3.5 out of 5

Description:  The most powerful man in the republic framed her, threw her in prison, and stole a priceless elven manuscript from her family.

With the help of a crack team that includes an illusionist, a unicorn, a death priestess, a talking warhammer, and a lad with a prophetic birthmark, Loch must find a way into the floating fortress of Heaven’s Spire–and get past the magic-hunting golems and infernal sorcerers standing between her and the vault that holds her family’s treasure.

It’d be tricky enough without the military coup and unfolding of an ancient evil prophecy–but now the determined and honourable Justicar Pyvic has been assigned to take her in.

But hey, every plan has a few hitches.

Review:  I picked up this little gem as I was binge watching Leverage on Netflix. Reading this novel while watching that show provided many eerie similarities – but that’s fine – I always root for the little guy.

In this story we have quite the cast of characters trying to steal back an elven manuscript. The team builds slowly and the novel follows each as they are recruited which makes for a somewhat shakey start as the reader tries to understand the various personalities and how they all fit in – very similar to the beginning of Leverage where they show you the thief, hacker, hitter, grifter, and mastermind. Except here, there is magic involved and the plan is . . . well, the plan is constantly being replanned and reformed to match the circumstances that are happening now. I suppose that is what happens when you are flirting with an ancient prophecy.

The story takes a while to take off. I spent the first half thinking – oh come on already, DO something. It really that there wasn’t any action, there was, it just didn’t seem to have any meaning. Then, at about the 50% mark, it takes off. Suddenly, all the characters seem to mesh, the action starts to make sense, and that can’t wait to flip the page hits.

The characters, with the exception of Loch, are flat. They are mostly one-note personalities who bring one quality to the group and they do that over and over again. Loch, however, is constantly surprising and one never really knows what she will do next. Even though the characters are rather one dimensional, the group of characters together is quite entertaining. I believe this is the only time I have ever enjoyed ‘your mom’ jokes. I usually find them juvenile and tasteless. Not really surprising since I am a mom. Here, however, they are presented in an almost satirical fashion. I laughed.

Each set of characters joins the rag tag team in pairs – with two magical exceptions, a unicorn and a death priestess. And, the characters stay paired off, for the most part, throughout. This allows each to work with another they know well and are used to working with. When plans go awry, and they do constantly, it was fun watching the group/pairs try to pull everything back together.

Although the action here was a little slow and the characters a little stale, I still thoroughly enjoyed this book. I think Mr. Weekes video game background is evident here as I could actually visualize the story coming together in some sort of video medium, whether it be gaming or television. Or maybe that was just the Leverage influence. At any rate, the ‘what on earth is going to happen next’ aspect of the story never let up and the characters were enjoyable enough that I enjoyed the time I spent with them. I also love a good take down of power grabbing megalomaniacs and watching the good guys win!

I give this one 3.5 stars but I will round it up to 4 for the good guys!

Full Blooded ~ Amanda Carlson

  • Title: Full Blooded
  • Author: Amanda Carlson
  • Series: Jessica McClain #1
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Description:  Born the only female in an all male race, Jessica McClain isn’t just different—she’s feared.

After living under the radar for the last twenty-six years, Jessica is thrust unexpectedly into her first change, a full ten years late. She wakes up and finds she’s in the middle of a storm. Now that she’s become the only female full-blooded werewolf in town, the supernatural world is already clamoring to take a bite out of her and her new Pack must rise up and protect her.

But not everyone is on board. The werewolf Rights of Laws is missing text and the superstitious werewolves think that Jessica means an end to their race. It doesn’t help when Jessica begins to realize she’s more. She can change partway and hold her form, and speak directly to her wolf. But the biggest complication by far is that her alpha father can’t control her like he can the rest of his wolves.

When a mercenary who’s been hired by the vampires shows up to extract information about the newly turned werewolf only days after her change, they find themselves smack in the middle of a war and there’s no choice but to run together. When it’s up to Jessica to negotiate her release against her father’s direct orders, she chooses to take an offer for help instead. In exchange, Jessica must now swear an oath she may end up repaying with her life.


Review:  I am a sucker for a good cover and I have to admit that the cover of Full Blooded sucked me in. The cover features a striking, but fierce looking female who is ready to take on the world. Just what I like in my urban fantasy! I won’t lie; the story did not live up to the promise of the cover for me.
It is not a bad story. In fact, the concept is great. The plot builds on the mythology that Jessica is the first of her kind, a FEMALE werewolf. This is a game-changer in the supernatural world, especially in light of some vague, threatening, and apparently lost prophecies.

Jessica is a strong minded independent young woman trying to cope. However, she can be really whiny, which I found annoying, almost as annoying as her tendency to leap before looking. She KNOWS she has gaps in knowledge, yet she seems to have no interest at all in actually spending some time learning.

I guess we can forgive Jessica a little bit, considering the fact that everyone in her life is equally stupid. It made absolutely no sense that everyone kept trying to keep her in the dark regarding werewolf lore. I suspect this was the author’s attempt at creating a situation ripe for conflict. Unfortunately for me, this type of weak plot device turns me right off.

I also felt that the author tried to cram too much into one book. It would have been different if all of the plots and subplots had been handled well, but they all felt short-changed. I think the book would have been much stronger if the story focused on the local pack intrigue with well-executed story development.
Finally, the abrupt ending made me want to throw the book across the room. Lucky for my Kindle, I was able to restrain myself. What is with the trend toward unfinished stories???? I feel cheated. I bought a complete book, but it wasn’t. Grrr.

There was just enough of a glimmer that I will give the next book a shot. It helps that I’ve been approved for a no cost advanced review copy. If I had to shell out money, my journey with Jessica would like end here. Fingers crossed that this series gets better.

Dirty Magic ~ Jaye Wells

  • Cover of Dirty Magic by Jaye WellsTitle:  Dirty Magic
  • Author:  Jaye Wells
  • Series:  The Prospero’s War, #1
  • Genre:  Urban Fantasy
  • Format:  eBook
  • Source:  NetGalley
  • Reviewed by:  Sonja
  • Rating:  4 out of 5

Description:  The first in an all-new urban fantasy series by USA Todaybestseller Jaye Wells. 

The last thing patrol cop Kate Prospero expected to find on her nightly rounds was a werewolf covered in the blood of his latest victim. But then, she also didn’t expect that shooting him would land her in the crosshairs of a Magic Enforcement Agency task force, who wants to know why she killed their lead snitch.

The more Prospero learns about the dangerous new potion the MEA is investigating, the more she’s convinced that earning a spot on their task force is the career break she’s been wanting. But getting the assignment proves much easier than solving the case. Especially once the investigation reveals their lead suspect is the man she walked away from ten years earlier—on the same day she swore she’d never use dirty magic again.

Kate Prospero’s about to learn the hard way that crossing a wizard will always get you burned, and that when it comes to magic, you should be never say never

Review:  This was a Book of the Month in a couple different groups I am in on GoodReads, so when I saw it at NetGalley, I happily snagged it for a review.

Warning: There are slight spoilers ahead. Only slight – nothing major. But, if you resist any type of spoilage, you might want to tread cautiously.

I really enjoyed this book. The world created was a very different tack on urban fantasy – all the fantastical creatures come from potions – potions created by adepts. Ok, so adepts are their own sorts of fantastical creatures – not everyone can actually cook magic – but the vampires and werewolves and what not are not natural to this world.

Kate is a former adept who is now a cop. She is also guardian to her little brother, Danny. Or, not so little – though it is easy to assume he is little based on the way she treats him. She still won’t let him come home to an empty house – he has a ‘baby sitter’. At 16. Even I wasn’t that over-protective . . . As it turns out, she has reason to be over protective, but her protection does little good.

I really like Kate. I completely understand her decision to stay totally away from Magic. Her comment near the end of the book says it all: “I don’t trust myself around magic.” For HER it is easier to stay completely away than to deal with the side effects – both good and bad. Some people can’t even take a dip, others have no problem. Sort of like alcohol. At least that is the way I see it. I would be just like Kate. I never do things by halves – I am either in completely or out completely. I get it. I also get that other people do not react the same way. They don’t understand why others just simply canNOT deal with even small doses of something – whatever it is. Kate has my complete sympathy.

I really liked Drew. Interested to see how things there develop – if they do.I also liked Pen. I loved their relationship. My only quandary is Volos. Is he a good guy or a bad guy? I can see Volos going either way. Did he manipulate Kate? Absolutely. But would he have done the right thing regardless? I think the jury is still out there. I think she may be seeing her past in him rather than the man he has become. Ok, yea, he is powerful and we all know that power begets the desire for more power, but that doesn’t mean he would do bad things to those he loved to get it. I dunno. I still think he could go either way. 

There is the requisite love triangle being established here. And, I gotta say, really? Does every single urban fantasy novel require a love triangle? I like all the characters developed here – I can see the triangle going only one of two ways – with her ex-love or with neither! I don’t think the other guy stands a chance. To me, they are friends – nothing more. I hope it stays that way.

There are some interesting creatures in this novel, not the least among them is Little Man – an homunculus conjoined to his twin sister since birth. She has become fully grown physically, he, mentally. Between the 2 of them, they are very interesting persons, and left me scratching my head going, hmmmm.

We can definitely draw analogies between magic and drugs. ‘Dirty’ magic would be seen as illegal narcotics, while ‘clean’ magic would be seen as prescription over the counter medication sold legally. I can see definite criticisms here for prescription medications for such things as depression – almost from a Scientology angle.

One thing that made me laugh was the curse jar. My knee jerk reaction to the first line of the book was to think, “Really? We have to start off with that word?” Happily for me, it definitely did NOT set the tone for the remainder of the novel – words when used were definitely appropriate. I loved the scene where she put everything she had in her purse in the jar and when she didn’t use up all her $, she used every word she could think of. Haven’t we all been there? 

I think my biggest single issue with this novel was Kate’s reaction to the team that she has grown to love and care for. Once she does the thing – the only thing she can do – there are no two ways about it, she has to do it – she doesn’t tell them. I simply cannot believe that the people involved in the relationships that I watched develop and grow would judge Kate for her actions and find her wanting. I think they would love, support, and encourage here. That they are not even given a chance – and OMG they are COPS – the best of the best – they ARE NOT stupid – to console and aid her – was the book’s single biggest weakness to me.

But, I am left with a  slew of questions. Say you want to leave magic and take your brother out of the world. Do you stay in the city where your Uncle leads the coven? Or do you get as far away as humanly possible? If you ARE going to stay in the city, do you make so much noise as to become a cop and keep poking at the hornet’s nest that you left? Or do you go dig a deep hole and try to hide?I mean, seriously, if it is just YOU – maybe. But, if you have a kid depending upon you? I found that aspect to also be completely unbelievable.

Other than that, I really enjoyed this one. I enjoyed the world. I enjoyed Kate. And, I enjoyed the relationships. I am eagerly awaiting more, and I hope it doesn’t disappoint. I give this one 3.5 stars for its failings – but round it up to 4 for the eagerness with which I anticipate the next.

City of Ghosts ~ Stacia Kane

  • Title: City of Ghosts
  • Author: Stacia Kane
  • Series: Downside Ghosts #3
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Format: Audio book
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating:  5 out of 5

Description:  IT’S A THIN LINE BETWEEN ALIVE AND UNDEAD.

Chess Putnam has a lot on her plate. Mangled human corpses have started to show up on the streets of Downside, and Chess’s bosses at the Church of Real Truth have ordered her to team up with the ultra-powerful Black Squad agency to crack the grisly case.

Chess is under a binding spell that threatens death if she talks about the investigation, but the city’s most notorious crime boss—and Chess’s drug dealer—gets wind of her new assignment and insists on being kept informed. If that isn’t bad enough, a sinister street vendor appears to have information Chess needs. Only he’s not telling what he knows, or what it all has to do with the vast underground City of Eternity.

Now Chess will have to navigate killer wraiths, First Elders, and a lot of seriously nasty magic—all while coping with some not-so-small issues of her own. And the only man Chess can trust to help her through it all has every reason to want her dead.

Review:  Stacia Kane has created a rich world full of interesting characters for her Downside Ghosts series. City of Ghosts, the third book in the series, gets started with a bang. From the very first scene, this book is filled with thrilling action that will keep the reader on the edge of their seat.

Chess Putnam, Church Witch and Debunker, has earned a reputation for solving tough cases. As a result, she has been loaned to the Black Squad to work on a case so sensitive that she must be bound to secrecy. Of course, this case is so far reaching that it impacts Downside, as well. Chess is forced to lay it all on the line to try or everything she may lose everything that she holds dear: her freedom in Downside, The Church itself, Terrible, and possibly her life.

Kane has set the stakes so much higher in this book. She has evolved the magic in her world-building by tapping into the Elder magic accessed by the binding spell. She does this brilliantly, creating more depth, while staying within the confines of the magic system that she has created. This magic also reveals even more about Chess, her pain is almost palpable as she struggles through the binding.

Chess burns bright in City of Ghosts, as we feel her isolated shell start to crack and fragment, revealing some of hidden depths of her character. She starts to let others in just a little bit, and yet her self-loathing makes every step agonizing, especially the conflict between Chess and Terrible. I felt that this was really well-written, because the core of this struggle was a unique trust and friendship at risk, rather than simply some mystical insta-love pull that so many authors rely upon these days.

The tension in this book was literally breath-taking. I would often find myself holding my breath, waiting to see what would happen next. I don’t just mean the inter-character dynamics. The danger was so much greater and the intrigue so much deeper. So much of the story was balanced upon a knife’s edge; the result was a thrill to read.

City of Ghosts is what dark urban fantasy should be, an intense adventure starring a cast of charismatic personalities. Well done, Ms. Kane. Well done.

 

The Merchant of Dreams ~ Anne Lyle

  • Title: The Merchant of Dreams
  • Author: Anne Lyle
  • Series: Night’s Masque #2
  • Genre: Historical Fantasy
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Own copy
  • Reviewed by: Erica
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Description:  Book Two of the Night’s Masque series, sequel to The Alchemist of Souls

Exiled from the court of Queen Elizabeth for accusing a powerful nobleman of treason, swordsman-turned-spy Mal Catlyn has been living in France with his young valet Coby Hendricks for the past year.

But Mal harbours a darker secret: he and his twin brother share a soul that once belonged to a skrayling, one of the mystical creatures from the New World.

When Mal’s dream about a skrayling shipwreck in the Mediterranean proves reality, it sets him on a path to the beautiful, treacherous city of Venice – and a conflict of loyalties that will place him and his friends in greater danger than ever.

Review: I’ve been mulling over this review for a while now, and I’m still a bit stumped and unsure how to keep it from being really short.

Let’s get the basics out of the way: I liked it, though not quite as much as I liked the first book in this trilogy. It was well-written, it read smoothly and there was not a moment where I felt bored and thought ‘yeah yeah, just get on with it already’.

The plot is a bit convoluted. We learned in the first book (spoilers!) that the mysterious beings called skraylings have souls that move to a nearby unborn infant when they die. Since they come from the New World and they often die far away from any other skraylings in England, this means that many of them have ‘reincarnated’ into human bodies, even though the very act of doing so is anathema to the skraylings. Our hero Maliverny Catlyn and his twin brother Sandy share one such soul between them, though Sandy got the larger part. Through this soul they are both able to perform certain skrayling magics, and because of this Mal learns of a party of skraylings who were on their way to establish a treaty with the republic of Venice.

The book covers a number of other characters apart from Mal, such as Mal’s girl-disguised-as-boy manservant Coby, Mal’s friend Ned and Ned’s lover Gabriel. Initially they’re more or less all over the place, but the plot eventually converges in Venice with a suitably exciting grand finale.

Where the book loses a few half stars is in both the characterisation and the sometimes all too convenient coincidences that hold the plot together. (Mal’s elder brother Charles is a known drunk and gambler, yet he waited 25+ years to sell a necklace in Venice just so our heroes can then retrieve it? I don’t quite buy that.) Ned seemed a bit nastier than in the last book, Mal a bit more petulant here and there, a little too fixed on his own wants rather than on what would be the smart thing to do. Certain events that happen are barely explained afterwards, or explained too late, even though the characters ought to be wondering how on earth that just happened.

Still, overall it was an enjoyable read, and a book which kept me effortlessly entertained from start to finish, and which made me go straight into the third book of this trilogy.