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.

 

Die Laughing ~ Carola Dunn

  • Title: Die Laughing
  • Author: Carola Dunn
  • Series: Daisy Dalrymple #12
  • Genre: Cozy mystery
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga Godim
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  Spring hemlines for 1924 have risen almost to the knee, to the dismay of Daisy’s mama-in-law. Fashion is hardly the only bone of contention between Daisy and Mrs. Fletcher, but Daisy has encountered a problem that eclipses her domestic dilemmas. A visit to the one person sure to instill terror into Daisy’s dauntless heart–the local dentist–turns out even worse than expected when she discovers Raymond Talmadge slumped dead in his chair, a nitrous oxide mask clamped to his smiling face. Others may believe the dentist was a secret dope fiend whose addiction took a tragic turn, but Daisy and her husband, Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher, are sure he was murdered. Suspects abound–the devastatingly handsome Talmadge didn’t need laughing gas to make his female patients swoon. And then there’s Talmadge’s wife, Daphne, who was involved in an illicit dalliance of her own. With scandals surfacing in a case that grows more tangled every day, Daisy faces her most perplexing mystery yet, courtesy of a cold-hearted killer who may be preparing to strike again.

Review: 

I’ll miss Daisy, the protagonist of my favorite cozy mystery series. I didn’t read it in chronological order, and I intentionally didn’t read the novels of this series back to back, to prolong the pleasure, but every good thing comes to an end. This book is the last of the series I hadn’t read before, except for the new one, just released. Now, to get a new Daisy, I’ll have to wait for eternity (well, maybe another year, but still…)

As always, Daisy stumbles upon a dead body in the beginning of the book. And not just a body – it’s her dentist. The investigation, conducted mostly by Alec, the DCI of Scotland Yard and Daisy’s husband, proceeds in a normal way, but now and again, Daisy comes up with a new little factoid or a new insight, and they frequently turn Alec and his crew in a new direction.

I can’t comment on the characterization in this book alone. I absorb Daisy as a whole, like a living person. With every encounter – every book in the series – she grows more complex and more human, progressing from a literary mystery heroine to a woman who lives nearby. I love her. For me, she is a friend, insatiably curious, wise, and deeply compassionate, always ready to take those less fortunate under her wing. Her resentment-laced relationship with her mother-in-law makes her even more alive.

The secondary characters are well defined as well, some of them recurring, others entirely new. Together, they form a solid framework for the story – the only story in the entire series where the culprit has got away from justice. But the search for the murderer is a fun ride, fast and baffling. Every chapter, one more red herring is disposed of, and a new suspect appears.

I didn’t guess the real villain until close to the end of the novel, and to tell the truth, I’m still not certain. As Alec couldn’t make an arrest, there was no confession and no real evidence, just the conjectures and the possible motivation for the crime. But the process of elimination works here as well as it worked for Sherlock Holmes: “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

The author’s subtle humor, present in the whole series, comes to the fore in this book. After all, how many dentists get murdered in mystery fiction? This is the only one I know.
My favorite quote from the book:

As Daisy gave her address, she was trying to decide what to do next. The sergeant obviously wasn’t going to listen to her. Should she phone the Yard again, or just give up and let some maniac run loose hither and yon murdering dentists?
The notion was undeniably attractive.

She resists the attraction manfully and goes on helping the investigative team in any way she can, even using her “adhesive loquacity” (what a phrase!) when needed.

Note: Look at the gorgeous cover of this paperback. I read the hardcover edition with a different cover art, also good, but this one with a skeleton is just fantastic!


The Haunted Bookshop ~ Christopher Morley

  • Title: The Haunted Bookshop
  • Author: Christopher Morley
  • Genre: Mainstream
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga Godim
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  A charming and entertaining novel that captures the romance of books and bookshops. “When you sell a man a book,” says Roger Mifflin, protagonist of this classic bookselling novel, “you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue–you sell him a whole new life.” The Haunted Bookshop finds Mifflin and his wife, Helen McGill, ensconced in Brooklyn, where they encounter some strange goings-on in their bookstore. The unraveling of the mystery provides a rollicking plot while allowing Mifflin (and Morley) to expound on the delights of reading and the intricacy of the bookseller’s art.

Review: This book is not nearly as good as its prequel, Parnassus on Wheels. In The Haunted Bookshop, we meet the same protagonists, Roger and Helen, plus two new ones, Aubrey and Titania, but neither the new characters nor the double number of pages made this novel better. Just the opposite, I think the longer format caused the writer to succumb to the unforgivable sin: wordiness.

The story itself mostly takes place in Roger’s bookshop in Brooklyn and, like its predecessor, it proclaims the value of books and reading. Unfortunately, the author allows his hero, Roger, the bookseller, to expound on his favorite subject of literacy for far too long. Sometimes it reads like forever, and I skipped those pages.

Examples? Ten pages of an incomprehensible conversation of the booksellers – skipped. To give the author his due, he warned his readers in a footnote to skip those pages, if they are not booksellers. Five pages of Roger’s inner monologue on the same subject – skipped. Roger’s prolonged and repetitive discourses on the evils of war – skipped. Seven pages of Roger’s letter to his brother-in-law, presented in its entirety – skipped. In some places, the book reads like a sermon to literature and peace, boring and didactic, instead of a story it’s supposed to be. The story got subjugated by the preaching.

The long, involved moralizing slows down the action, and the heroes are not as well defined as they could’ve been. Although the main plot line is something of a thriller, with an enigmatic book that keeps appearing and disappearing from the shelves, overall, the novel is a bit tedious. The mystery scheme only coalesces into existence at about midpoint, throwing off the balance of the tale. Before that, it is mostly an empty talk. After that, it is almost a sprint to get to the end.

I think this book could’ve been twice shorter, and it would’ve been twice better for cutting out all the extra verbiage. I happen to agree with Roger’s point of view on all counts, but his long harangues don’t make his sentiments any more valid than they already are.       

One more complaint – everyone is smoking in Roger’s bookshop. He himself smokes constantly. I could almost sense the disgusting smell as I read – it’s so-o-o dated.

Still, I finished the book and I’m not sorry I spent the time. Roger is a wise man, his love for books is contagious, especially when expressed in a condensed form, and his humor is sometimes irresistible.

“People don’t know they want books. I can see just by looking at you that your mind is ill for lack of books but you are blissfully unaware of it. People don’t go to a bookseller until some serious mental accident or disease makes them aware of their danger. Then they come here. For me to advertise would be about as useful as telling people who feel perfectly well that they ought to go to the doctor.”

“Between ourselves, there is no such thing, abstractly, as a ‘good’ book. A book is ‘good’ only when it meets some human hunger or refutes some human error. A book that is good for me would very likely be punk for you. … There is no one so grateful as the man to whom you have given just the book his soul needed and he never knew it.”

“I don’t mind a man stealing books if he steals good ones!”

Roger’s loathing for war (the book was written soon after the end of the WWI) is also worth mentioning. I’m with him 100%.

“You see those children going down the street to school? Peace lies in their hands. When they are taught in school that War is the most loathsome scourge humanity is subject to, that it smirches and fouls every lovely occupation of the mortal spirit, then there may be some hope for the future. But I’d like to bet they are having it drilled into them that war is a glorious and noble sacrifice.”

It is a classic, and one should make allowances to its venerable age – 100 years – when reading it. Like an old man, this book is often more verbose than we would like, but even now, 100 years after its publication, every word still rings true. Recommended!

Parnassus on Wheels ~ Christopher Morley

  • Title: Parnassus on Wheels
  • Author: Christopher Morley
  • Genre: Mainstream
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: Olga Godim
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  “I warn you,” said the funny-looking little man with the red beard, “I’m here to sell this caravan of culture, and by the bones of Swinburne I think your brother’s the man to buy it.” Christopher Morley’s unforgettably weird classic tale of adventure on a traveling bookstore called Parnassus, drawn by a steed called Pegasus. Not to be missed.

Review: Charming, simply charming! I don’t believe in all my readings over the years I missed this author. I’m totally in love with this short and sweet gem of a novella, published in 1917, almost a hundred years ago. I’m going to read more of Morley. I’m definitely reading the sequel – The Haunted Bookshop – as my 1947 edition of this book has both under one cover.

Despite its low page count, Parnassus on Wheels incorporates two interweaved love stories: a short, poignant romance of two middle-aged, lonely people, falling in love with each other, and a story of a man’s overwhelming love for books.

The male protagonist Roger is a 41-year-old bookseller, a reader and a dreamer. He lives in Parnassus, his home and bookshop – a capacious country wagon, stuffed with books. Roger’s life-goal is to disseminate his love of reading to as many people as he could reach. A born salesman in the best meaning of the word, he inspires people by his passion for literature. Wherever he passes – small farms and large towns – he always leaves behind books and newly-converted readers.

The female protagonist Helen is a 39-year-old spinster, keeping house for her farmer brother. A no-nonsense, practical lady, she doesn’t have time to read. Her life consists mostly of cooking, cleaning and other farm chores. On a whim, she buys Parnassus from Roger for $400 and embarks on a road trip of her lifetime: to sell books. Along the way, she falls in love with the bookseller.

The plot is simple, with no unneeded twists. The heroes just trundle along the country lanes, selling books and chatting, but I couldn’t stop reading and I smiled a lot. The adventures our travelers encounter are small, the obstacles mundane, but the inner lives of Roger and Helen are so huge and beautiful, they shine in the grayness of our humdrum existence: two twinkling stars stretching their rays of light towards each other across America.

My only complaint: Roger talks too much, with too many incomprehensible literary allusions, but like Helen, I sometimes tuned him off.  

Otherwise, the writing is yummy, humorous and clear – a pure joy to read. The book is a hymn to booksellers, all the owners of small independent bookstores. And for the first time in my reading life, which has been quite extensive, I encountered an introduction to a book written not by a scholar or another writer but by a bookseller, Joseph Margolies. Among the quotes below, the quotes I had trouble choosing from so many captivating and insightful passages in the book, a couple belongs to Margolies.

From the introduction:

They [these books] should be compulsory reading for all booksellers and especially for those who are beginning to doubt that there is any romance left in the selling of books.

The greatest compliment one can pay to the business of bookselling is that although the monetary return is not great so few ever leave it for more remunerative work. Once the virus has entered the system there is not much that can be done to remove it.

I wonder: does Amazon count as a bookseller? What about big-box chain stores? Anyone there possesses that virus?

From the book:

“Lord!” he said, “when you sell a man a book you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue—you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humor and ships at sea by night—there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book I mean….”

He laughed at his own vehemence. “Do you know, it’s comical,” he said. “Even the publishers, the fellows that print the books, can’t see what I’m doing for them … Sometimes I think the publishers know less about books than any one else! I guess that’s natural, though. Most school teachers don’t know much about children.”  

“Judging by the way you talk,” I said, “you ought to be quite a writer yourself.”
“Talkers never write. They go on talking.”

There are three ingredients in the good life: learning, earning, and yearning. A man should be learning as he goes; and he should be earning bread for himself and others; and he should be yearning too: yearning to know the unknowable.

<

p style=”padding-left:30px;”>When God at first made man (says George Herbert) he had a “glass of blessings standing by.” So He pours on man all the blessings in His reservoir: strength, beauty, wisdom, honor, pleasure—and then He refrains from giving him the last of them, which is rest, i.e., contentment. God sees that if man is contented he will never win his way to Him. Let man be restless…   

Two new words for me in this book:

Bunkum – empty talk
Parcheesi – a dice throwing game
       

 

Annabel Scheme ~ Robin Sloan

  • Title: Annabel Scheme
  • Author: Robin Sloan
  • Genre: Mystery, Fantasy
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: Olga Godim
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  Annabel Scheme is a detective story set in an alternate San Francisco where the digital and the occult live side-by-side. It’s a short, snappy read — about 128 pages/128,000 Kindle locations — and perfect for people who like Sherlock Holmes, Douglas Adams, ghosts and/or the internet. Finally, it makes a great Kindle gift. In Scheme’s San Francisco, an indie rocker’s new tracks are climbing the charts, even though the rocker herself is long dead. A devout gamer has gone missing, and the only trace of him that remains is inside his favorite game, the blockbuster MMORPG called World of Jesus. And the richest man in the city, the inventor of the search engine called Grail, might just have made a deal with a devil. Meanwhile, Annabel Scheme has just hired herself a Watson, an A.I. assistant who’s now learning the ropes on a case that will quickly transform into Scheme’s biggest — and possibly her last.

Come on. Fog City is waiting.

Review:  I’m not sure what I think of this Kindle novella. It’s too weird. It starts as a PI comedy. It proceeds as an odd kind of mystery, on the intersection between the internet and demons. It ends in a tragedy, with an assortment of loose ends still dangling. And in between, there are too many unanswered questions. But all the same, it was an absorbing read, very much 21st century. Although I’m not sure I liked it, never once did I want to abandon the book, so I can’t give it less than 3 stars.

The protagonist Annabel Scheme is a PI in an alternative version of San Francisco. She has an assistant – a computer server named Hu. His video and audio interface is located in Annabel’s earrings, so he can see what she sees and hear what she hears. He can also process information at the server speed and he has an unlimited extension capabilities. The story is told from his POV.

Their client is a young musician complaining of illegal distribution of his recordings that don’t exist – with his former partner who is deceased. From here, it’s a helter-skelter gallop by Annabel and Hu, involving a super-powerful digital search engine Grail (note: not Google), an online game World of Jesus, dead people, quantum computers, falafel, and a sinister website where body parts are for sale.

The writing is good though, the descriptions vivid and often scary, and the writer’s imagination and sense of humor seem boundless if slightly warped. One of the locations he describes is a coffee shop that doubles as an incubator of internet start-ups. The barista asks Annabel:

“What can I get you? Espresso? Drip coffee? Articles of incorporation?”
The baristas here all have law degrees.

Later, in conversation with Hu, Annabel states that some of her conclusions are just a hunch. Hu thinks:

Just a hunch. Note to self: find software for that.       

Grail’s quantum computers offer an advance variation of a search engine, one that doesn’t need a search box, just a button.

You pressed it, and it simply gave you what you were looking for. It worked even if you didn’t know what you were looking for. It worked even if you couldn’t admit, not even to yourself, what you were looking for.

This reads like a horror version of a search engine. Perhaps this book belongs to the horror genre.

Skinny Dip ~ Carl Hiaasen

  • Title: Skinny Dip
  • Author: Carl Hiaasen
  • Series: Mick Stranahan #2
  • Genre: Mystery
  • Format: Paperback
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: Olga Godim
  • Rating: 3 out of 5

Description:  Marine biologist Chaz Perrone can’t tell a sea horse from a sawhorse. And when he throws his beautiful wife, Joey, off a cruise liner, he really should know better. An expert swimmer, Joey makes her way to a floating bale of Jamaican pot–and then to an island inhabited by an ex-cop named Mick Stranahan, whose ex-wives include five waitresses and a TV producer. Now Joey wants to get revenge on Chaz and Mick’s happy to help her. But in swampy South Florida, separating lies from truths and stupidity from brilliance isn’t easy. Especially when you’re after a guy like Chaz–who’s bad at murder, great at fraud, and just terrible at getting caught.

Review:  How to categorize this book? It’s not a mystery – although it starts with a murder. It’s not a police procedural, although a policeman is trying to make the case against the murderer throughout the book. It’s not a romance, although it ends with a ‘happily-ever-after’. It’s not a comedy, although absurdities pile up on the pages. I’d call it a farce with environmental flavor.

In the beginning, the antagonist, biologist Chaz Perrone, pitches his wife Joey overboard from a cruise ship. He is happy with the deed done well, but unfortunately for him, Joey survives. The rest of the book is dedicated to Joey taking revenge on her inept murderer of a husband. She is also trying to figure out why he decided to murder her.

The plot line is preposterous to the point of crazy, but the value of this novel doesn’t reside in the plot, it is in the characters. They are diverse and colorful, especially the bad ones.

The antagonist Chaz is a tangle of contradictions. One moment, he is a sleek confident liar, the next – a slimy, soulless prick, cowardly but sly. Everyone holds him in contempt, his ‘friends’ and enemies alike, but somehow, his overworking sense of self-preservation always helps him to end up on top, not exactly winning but not really losing either, just biding his time. Pathetic as a villain, he is nonetheless frightening in his sordid venality – and for the lowest possible price. This self-admiring worm is the best-defined character in the novel, the focal point of the action. Every twist of the plot revolves around him.

Chaz’s partners in crime include his employer Red, a corrupt and ruthless owner of vegetable farms, and Red’s goon Tool, a hirsute ape of a man, whose conscience is stirring unexpectedly.

On the positive side, there is a Norwegian detective Rolvaag, superbly honest and tenacious like a bulldog but slightly eccentric: he keeps pythons as pets. A loner Mike is also one of the good guys. A former policeman and Joey’s savior, he is the one who fished her out of the sea. He helps her with her vengeance scheme and generally plays the role of a knight in tarnished armor.

And then there is Joey. She should be the protagonist, she almost got killed in the beginning of the story, but she is somewhat fuzzy as a character. Actually, all the female characters are fuzzy in this novel, as opposed to the male characters, each one with his sharply defined personality and quirky history.

The story is unevenly paced, sometimes galloping, sometimes crawling. Too many back stories slow down the action, and I wondered why the author included them. They are not really relevant to the proceedings. They are funny though, but for some reason, I didn’t laugh, not even once. I suspect a screwball comedy isn’t for me, although the juxtaposition of a petty criminal and the huge evil of his crime – murder, even unsuccessful – felt intriguing. I definitely wanted to know the resolution of this cat’s cradle of lies and subplots.

The setting, Everglades, Florida, plays a major role in this book. The author obviously loves its endless marches and abundant wildlife, and the entire book reads as a tribute to Everglades.

Overall – a ridiculous but absorbing read. I enjoyed it.