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Friday, 27 September 2013

Breath of Africa by Jane Bwye

Following in the book settings theme of recent guest posts to my blog, I'm delighted to have Jane Bwye, author of "Breath of Africa" - thirty years of Kenyan history and a lush read. Here Jane takes us through the fabulous landscapes that make up the fabric on which the novel is woven.

***

East Africa’s volcanos, lakes and wildlife are a major character in my novel. Breath of Africa was written as a catharsis when I relocated to the UK twelve years ago, after living for fifty-five years in Kenya. For me, the storyline was secondary to the nostalgic memories I nursed. But thanks to professional advice, my readers have found the book “hard to put down.”
            
African scenery was etched in my soul from the time I wandered up a stony path as a six year old schoolgirl, with the forest-topped rim of Menengai Crater brooding over me. I paused, spied a dandelion head and puffed it away with one blow. My wish was to travel the world - which I achieved by my 60th birthday – but my heart was in Africa.

Menengai, the third largest crater in the world, played a part in the book’s budding romance:

“As evening fell, grey clouds crept along the crater depths and swirled up the cliffs, snatching at them with wispy fingers, as the wind caught and tossed the vapours into nothingness among the trees.
“…A sudden movement distracted them. Brian turned off the track, parting the long grass in front of him.
‘Careful of snakes!’ Caroline warned.
“She followed, treading in his footsteps. As they approached the thrashing, it increased, and she saw the soft brown hide of a female impala,its eyes wide with fright. One leg was caught in a loop of wire.
‘It’s a trap, but the wire hasn’t tightened too much. I’ll see if I can free her.’
“Brian caught hold of the leg, and the animal stilled. She seemed to know they were trying to help. He struggled with the wire and eased it over the hoof. He let go. The doe stood there for a second, then moved her leg and took a small step. She bounded away and the grass closed behind her. It was as if it had never happened.”
           
Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania was another scene, which progressed the relationship between Caroline and Brian. I went on a memorable safari there in the mid-sixties, and Caroline’s feelings as she first laid eyes on this wonder were my own.
            
A thunderstorm was progressing along the opposite wall, its deep purple clouds contrasting with the faint browns and greys of the sunlit plain far below. On the left glimmered a lake, behind a tiny patch of forest. Caroline let her eyes wander round the vast rim of the crater. The great canopy of sky overwhelmed her, she breathed in deeply, savouring the immensity of the scene. The breath of Africa filled her being. This was her country, her home.”

Towards the end of the book, as Caroline approaches the evening of her days, she visits Richard Leakey’s famous desert camp on the eastern side of Lake Turkana in Kenya’s northern district. Here, a romance is nipped in the bud. These pictures were taken on my safari there in the 1980’s. Central Island, where I am sitting, features in the book, the pink rim round the lake totalled 3,000 flamingos. The desolate site of the petrified forest is not far from Koobi Fora.



And the dramatic climax of the book takes place at a sand river in the extreme south of Kenya near a soda lake.

A second roar, more disturbing than the howl of the Mau Mau, filled his world, moving, rocking, spinning. He was flung from side to side, bruising painfully against the gear lever. His head bumped on the roof, his nose banged the windscreen; water everywhere. He couldn’t breathe…”


I don’t have a photograph of this desolate region, but here is one of what the place might have been like, in the aftermath.


***
 

Jane Bwye has been a businesswoman and intermittent freelance journalist for fifty years, mostly in Kenya. She cut short an Oxford career to get married, was widowed in her early twenties, and left with three small children – but was lucky enough to remarry. Now her six children and seven grandkids are scattered over three continents, so she’s developed a taste for travel. She has “walked” round the world, buying a bird book in every country she visited.

She has edited a cookbook, “Museum Mixtures”, in aid of the Kenya Museum Society, and is working on a short History of her local church. Her first novel, Breath of Africa, which is dedicated to the youth of Kenya, had a gestation period of thirty years. The plot and characters are fictitious, but the story draws on Jane’s experiences in a country going through the throes of re-birth.

You can find out more about Jane and Breath of Africa on her site and blog

BREATH OF AFRICA

Thirty years of Kenya’s recent history unfold through the lives of Caroline, a privileged woman from the fertile highlands, and Charles Ondiek, a farm labourer with dreams of an Oxford education.

Charles’s love for Teresa, daughter of a hated settler farmer, leads to a drama of psychological terror fuelled by Mau Mau oath administrator, Mwangi, who is held in detention for six years.

On his release, Mwangi forces Charles and Teresa apart, then turns his attention to Caroline… Against the backdrop of Kenya’s beautiful but hostile desert, the curse is finally broken. But when Caroline discovers the hidden reason for Mwangi’s hatred, she wonders if she’ll ever, really, belong in the country she loves.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Landscape of Fantasy by Kathy Sharp

As part of the series of guest posts on book settings, on my blog today I feature an intriguing article by Kathy Sharp on how the Jurassic Coast of Dorset not only became a magical, fantasy world  in her novel "Isle of Larus", but even helped shaping the characters themselves.

***
Location is an important feature in any novel. It can set the atmosphere, add mystery, even have shock value. 
Not many stories can succeed without a sense of location. But what happens when the story is a fantasy – set in an imaginary landscape? How much is invented, and how much is borrowed from reality?

In my novel Isle of Larus the landscape takes on a major role in the story – almost a character in its own right. It was inspired by the Jurassic Coast of Dorset, where I live, and the Isle of Portland in particular. The isle in the story is by no means a portrait of Portland, but I did borrow freely from its appearance and atmosphere, from its seeming isolation, uncompromising ruggedness, and robust weather. Especially that robust weather!


I have observed Portland from all points up and down the Dorset coast, and I lived there, too, in one of its stone cottages, for some years. It looks remarkably remote, from a distance, considering it’s pretty firmly anchored to the mainland by the Chesil Beach. A proper little lost world. And that’s just what appealed to me as a writer: the contrast between this apparent far-off other world and the rather gritty reality of the isle when you are standing on it. It has a delicate magical resonance for such a dour place, and it was this I was trying to capture in my story.

The characters simply grew out of this strange landscape, the main ones began as personifications of places or buildings on Portland, so the connection is intimate, but not in any way factual. The ruinous Norman edifice Rufus Castle on the east cliff became Rufus the Hermit, ancient, crumbling, yet dignified; the Tudor Portland castle, in much better repair, became the very strait-laced Captain Castello, head of island security. St George’s church, like a tiny St Paul’s, became the Reverend Pontius, and the lighthouse at Portland Bill became Rissa the Ship Warden in her scarlet gown. I made these four characters the guardians of the isle, and sat back to see what they would do.

 Sea and sky, stone houses, old castles, churches and lighthouses were the raw materials of the tale. I simply let my imagination do the rest, and the Isle of Larus just shimmered into being – ‘mythical yet familiar’, as a kind friend put it. This is one story that wouldn’t exist at all without the landscape.


 ***

Growing up by the sea in Kent, back in the 1960s, it was Kathy’s ambition to become a writer. Time passed.
She married, moved to westLondon, and had a daughter. She continued to write, and had a small book or two on countryside and nature subjects published.  She worked for many years as a desktop publisher for Surrey County Council, and as a tutor in adult education.
And then, one day, she visited a friend who had just moved to the Isle of Portland, Dorset, and fell in love with the place. She has now lived in the Weymouth and Portland area for eight years, and still loves it. The wonderful Jurassic Coast, and Portland in particular, were the inspiration for her first novel, Isle of Larus.
Kathy also sings with, and writes lyrics for, the Island Voices Choir on Portland, and is a keen member of local writing groups, as well as enjoying studying the local flora. 

"Isle of Larus" is published by Crooked Cat Publishing and is available in paperback or e-book format at Amazon 

You can also read Kathy’s regular Monday blog on Goodreads 

Or find her on Facebook

 ISLE OF LARUS

 The calm before the storm.

The four guardians of the Isle of Larus have been enjoying quiet and comfortable lives, with nothing more than the occasional shipwreck to trouble them – but all that is about to change.

The Spirit of the Sea decides to send a series of alarming events to test and teach them, as well as providing himself with hours of entertainment at their expense.

For the first test, how will the guardians cope with the arrival of a fleet of completely impossible ships? Not too well at all, it would seem.

And that is just the beginning...

Monday, 23 September 2013

Bath – the greatest little city by Pamela Kelt

Our explorations of book settings chosen by authors have taken us to places as different as BelfastAmsterdam, Tenerife and even a fantasy world. Today Pamela Kelt bring us closer to home, as she guides us through the city that serves as a background to her contemporary mystery novel "Tomorrow's Anecdote" - Bath.

*** 
‘So, do you fancy living in Bath?’

Royal Crescent - Nigel Mykura

I was working at the Cambridge Evening News, splash sub on the day Princess Diana was in town. The editors were frothing at the mouth. In the midst of the chaos, the phone went. It was Rob, my husband. He’d just opened the magic envelope. Yes, he’d got the job as junior chemistry lecturer at the University of Bath.

Did I fancy living in Bath? YES! I couldn’t get away for hours, but we celebrated. For quite some time.

I’d chummed Rob along for his interview some weeks earlier and had fallen in love with the city and the beautiful environs. It was unbearable to conceive that he might not get the job. But he did – and we were set.

We moved in the autumn and I was lucky enough to land a job at the Bath Evening Chronicle, as it was then. If you want to know what makes a city tick, work on the local paper. When I started on my newsroom mystery, Tomorrow’s Anecdote, it made perfect sense to set it there, with some name changed to protect the guilty. I moved the office and newspaper presses to an imaginary small town to the south called Wellsbury Spa.

The early scenes in the book featuring the dodgy ergonomic chairs and clunky keyboards is all based on reality. We even had a real-life ‘Board of Evil’ where we all tried desperately to get the word ‘evil’ into a headline, which we’d cut out and stick up. The management took down the cuttings regularly but they kept reappearing. Funny, that.

There are also scenes set in the newspaper library, all true to life. I don’t know what’s happened to that treasure trove of information, for the paper has folded.

So, by day, as I subbed stories about Bath, I began absorbed all the facts the figures about the place: the politics, the movers and shakers, the streets, the culture, the shops, the conservation projects, the issues with tourists, travellers, tradespeople. Evenings and weekends we explored the cinemas, theatres, cafés, pubs. My editor called it ‘the greatest little city on earth’. It was one of the few things we agreed on.

Cross Bath - Rob Farrow
Bath is so beautiful, it’s hard to know where to begin. The fabulous Regency façades, the sweeping crescents, the baths, the cathedral, the elegant parks. I always swore I’d never take them for granted, and I think I succeeded. When we lived there, there was a massive conservation programme going on, and I borrowed some of that detail for a scene with our heroine gets trapped in an original spa that has been closed due to a potentially lethal health hazard. The Cross Bath, so called, was being refurbished at the time. I passed the project regularly on my way to our Westgate Street office, bang in the city centre.


Later, I became features editor, fortunate enough to be in charge of running restaurant reviews. Oh, boy, did we eat out at some fancy places! In fact, I preferred the pubs, and every establishment in the book is based on a real place, including the rather seedy first-floor bar where the journos always go to discuss strike action. Yes, the landlady wore frilly blouses and drank Babycham. I’m not sure if she was a cross-dresser. Nobody ever had the guts to ask.

In time, Rob and I acquired our wonderful dog, Amber. We began to explore the wonderful countryside, enjoying the most beautiful dog walks imaginable. Again, the country scenes in the book are all real – Woolley, Limpley Stoke, Sham Castle, Rainbow Wood – with some name changes. Picturesque isn’t a strong enough word. 
 
City View
Sham Castle - Derek Harper
   

















Tomorrow’s Anecdote is set in the autumn of 1987 when the Great Storm hit. I was actually in Cambridge at the time, but later I came across the file pictures of the havoc caused in Somerset. I can’t locate an actual photograph of Rainbow Wood, where most of the massive beech trees were felled by the winds, but the one here is pretty close. It gave me the idea for the rather gruesome discovery that kicks off the mystery part of the story. 

Fallen giant, victim of the Great Storm 1987 - Chris Reynolds

Solsbury Hill - Maurice Pullin
In time, we bought a house – after a marathon search that took us to some less salubrious parts of town, some of which you’ll recognise in the book. We ended up in Larkhall, formerly a separate village to the east. It was a Victorian terraced house on a private road called Eastville, and is the model for Clare Forester’s small, but cosy home ‘Westville’. And yes, there was a view of Solsbury Hill if you craned your head while leaning out of the bedroom window on a clear day.
Call me sentimental, but every time I hear the song, I feel weepy.

We loved it, we loved it all – despite the fact that interest rates soared to 16 per cent, and the NUJ journalists went on strike, and there was union trouble at the university too. The NUJ paid our mortgage for six weeks. It was tense.

And I still love Bath, despite the tourists and the traffic. I wonder, too, if the Georgian architecture reminds me of my home city, Edinburgh, but the setting is quite distinctly English, with those soft rolling, green hills all around. Of course, I have a particularly soft spot for the place since my daughter was born there, so that guarantees a strong connection. (I dedicated the book to her, too.) I’d live there again at the drop of a hat.

Hm. Time for a sequel?

***

Pamela Kelt started out by taking Spanish at the University of Manchester. On completion of the degree and after a subsequent six brain-fogging months on a local paper, she fled to Oxford and completed her M. Litt. thesis on ‘Comic aspects of satirical 17th-century comic interludes’, which was not only much more fun, but strangely relevant to coping with the vagaries of the 21st century. After becoming a technical translator, she discovered that English was easier, and did copywriting for anyone who would pay. On a stint in Australia, she landed a job as a subeditor and returned to journalism, relishing the chance to come up with funny headlines in a variety of provincial papers, including the Cambridge Evening News and the Bath Chronicle. Ah. Once a pun a time.

As her academic husband became a chemistry professor in something even she can’t spell, Pam moved into the more sensible world of educational magazines and online publishing – for a while, at least. A daughter arrived and reintroduced her to the delights of fiction, which she’d sort of forgotten about. So, one fine day, while walking the dogs at a local beauty spot, thinking ‘to hell with a career’, Pam took the plunge into writing for herself, and is now the author of six books to date (including one co-written with aforementioned prof, with more in the pipeline) ranging from historical drama by way of teen fantasy to retro mystery.


TOMORROW'S ANECDOTE

Just another day in the the newsroom? Hardly.

October 1987. Clare Forester is an overworked and under-appreciated features subeditor on a provincial paper in Somerset. She spends her time cheerfully ranting about her teenage daughter, the reclusive lodger, her spiteful mother, the Thatcher government, new technology, grubby journalists, petty union officials, her charming ex - and just about anything else that crosses her path.

If things aren’t turbulent enough, on the night of Thursday, October 15th, the Great Storm sweeps across Britain, cutting a swathe of destruction across the country.

Things turn chaotic. Pushed to breaking point, Clare finally snaps and loses her temper with gale-force fury - with disastrous results.

As she contemplates the chaos that her life has become, Clare soon comes to a bitter conclusion.

Never trust the past. It lies.


Sunday, 22 September 2013

Autumn Song

Autumn is officially with us, the equinox occurring tonight at around quarter to nine. As always, I feel compelled to listen to some of my favourite seasonal songs - September Song, The Autumn Leaves, Autumn in New York...

The latter is playing in Seth's mind too, as he reflects on his life, past mistakes and new opportunities, in this excerpt from "Playing on Cotton Clouds".

Sit back, play the clip and take this walk into Central Park with him.




Autumn in New York.

Seth left the subway and emerged in St Columbus Circle. The song had been stuck in his head all morning, since he had woken up and caught sight of the trees that lined the West 11th Street outside his flat.

He had lived in a song or a movie for the past four months and wondered if New York had that effect on all its visitors, with its well known, overexposed sights.

Some places have the power of welcoming you as one of their own the minute you arrive. It had been the case in Amsterdam and again in London, and now Seth felt it here.

The bustling of the city was reassuring and familiar and he crossed the busy square, a zigzag of yellow taxis and cars circling the fountains and flowers at the centre of the round-about, moving with ease towards Central Park.

The rusty leaves overhead coloured the scenery with various shades of reds and browns and Autumn in New York kept playing in his head.

The melancholic streak that tinged the air of the bright and crispy day, with patches of blue sky visible beyond the golden leaves of the trees and the towering buildings looking down on the park, felt like a projection of his nature.

He could not escape it, like a thorn planted somewhere in his body and forgotten, until it would suddenly reappear to hurt him again. Perhaps old memories of his many mistakes had followed him all the way across the ocean, or perhaps it was just part of him, something he could not tear out without maiming himself.

He continued to walk along the paths that cut through the park, among joggers and strollers, dog walkers and mums pushing prams, people taking a break on the benches and pigeons. It could have been Hyde Park or Vondelpark or even their small public gardens, back home… any park in the world, probably. Except it wasn’t. It was Central Park and there was something unmistakably newyorkese in the air.

His destination was finally in sight, a quirky café by Sheep Meadow.

The season’s chill hadn’t hit the city yet and people were enjoying the last bout of sunshine sitting at the tables outside the low building.

Seth glanced at his watch. He was only five minutes late. That would take Nicole by surprise, no doubt.

She had already arrived and was intent on reading a paperback, while waiting at one of the tables, faultlessly elegant in an Yves Saint Laurent grey dress, impeccably modelling her figure, a white silk scarf wrapped around her neck.

“Sorry I’m late.” The words came out of Seth’s mouth almost automatically. After all those years, he still felt apologetic in her presence.

She lifted her head and uncovered her perfect teeth. In her late thirties, age didn’t seem to have caught up with her, except for a few faint lines at the corner of her mouth and eyes, which Seth noticed as he leaned on the cheek she had offered for him to kiss.
 
“When are you going to shave that thing off?” She brought a hand to her face.

Seth grinned and caressed his beard. “I had it trimmed this morning,” he jokingly protested, while taking his seat. “It’s quite stylish, don’t you think? Kind of George Clooney.”

“You wish.” Nicole laughed. “It makes you look five years older. Glad you cut your hair, at least, and I don’t mind the casual-jacket, unbuttoned-shirt look.”

“Still trying to style me, Nick? We’re not married anymore.”

“Suit yourself, then. Shall we order?”

“Absolutely. I’ve owed you this lunch for four months.”

“Nonsense. I was glad to help out. How do you find the flat?”

“Perfect. Your choice was immaculate, as always.”

She gave her usual unassuming-while-secretly-pleased-with-herself look.

“And how are you finding New York?” she continued.

“Amazing city. I can see why you love it so much.”

“City of opportunities.”

“Precisely.”

“And have you?”

“Have I, what?”

“Grabbed your opportunities.”

“To an extent, yeah. I’m back writing.”

“Another novel?”

“Notes, for now. I have written a few shorts for the magazine, alongside the column…”

“… which is brilliant, Seth. I read it every week.”

“Ah, thanks.”

“And what about the rest?”

“The rest?”

“Still single?”

“Stubbornly so.”

“Ah, shame. You need a woman to sort you out.”

“I’m hard work.”

“Tell me about it.”

The waiter interrupted their quick-fire exchange, took their order and returned with their drinks.

“To opportunities, then.” Nicole lifted her small glass of white Californian wine.

“To opportunities,” Seth repeated.

“And new love,” Nicole added.

The words seemed to echo through the park with the muffled, distant sound of the city’s traffic.

Somehow Seth’s mind was filled not with expectations, but with memories. Perhaps it was the company of Nicole, the taste of the past and old feelings. He was looking at them from a distance, in a weird out-of-body experience. [...]

Seth stared at the sun reflected in the wine, as if the answer had been in there all along.

His face broke into a smile.

“Yes.” He lifted his glass. “To new love.”




Friday, 20 September 2013

Foreign Places In My Blood - by Nik Morton

Still on the subject of book settings, today I'm hosting a fascinating article by Nik Morton uncovering the island of Tenerife, background to his adrenaline-filled thriller "Blood of the Dragon Trees".


Many years ago, when I first hankered after being an author, I wanted to write about exotic places around the world. Have my heroes and heroines travelling the globe, much like Dennis Wheatley managed with his many series characters. Maybe that’s why I eventually joined the Royal Navy…

My first attempt at a novel featured a section in Lisbon – I’d recently been on a school trip. So I got the bug about writing of foreign places early. I’ve set books and short stories in most of the places I’ve visited over the years. Even so, it requires research, no matter how familiar.

My latest book, Blood of the Dragon Trees is set in Tenerife, an island my wife and I have visited a number of times, flying from UK and latterly from mainland Spain, our home for the last ten years.

You’ve probably seen the occasional film that opts for the most interesting places in a town or city for photographic or dramatic reasons but juggles them about in the timeline. In my books, I try not to do that. My characters walk and drive through real places and their route is logical.

The dragon trees are found in North Africa, Spain and Asia. They’re unusual – their sap, when it’s exposed to daylight, darkens to the colour of blood. The gigantic dragon tree in Icod de los Vinos on Tenerife is called Drago Milenario – considered to be over a thousand years old, and is quite a remarkable specimen.

Los Cristianos dockside, where locals and tourists witness a boat-load of illegal immigrants being processed, is real, of course. This occurrence is fairly commonplace, too, a reflection of our modern times.




The huge market in Santa Cruz, Tenerife’s capital, is pivotal to the meeting of two main characters. It’s a place full of colours and smells, with a distinctly North African flavour to it.

Bananas from the Canaries figure in the storyline. They’re sweeter and smaller than those from Central America and the Caribbean.

      "Felipe nodded. “Before he was General Franco, he’d been Captain General of the Canary Islands. After the Second World War, our banana industry was on its knees. Franco decreed that one kilo of Canary bananas was to be bought by every cardholder each month. That measure, it saved the industry from collapse. One good think Franco did for Spain.” (p102).

On mainland Spain, we invariably have the choice of Canary or Colombia bananas, and I opt for the Spanish, even though they’re slightly dearer.

Dominating the island is Mount Teide, the highest point in Spain. It is still regarded as active, though its last eruption was in 1909, and stark evidence remains on the coast by the towns of Garachico, Icod de los Vinos and Puerto de la Cruz. The volcano and the surrounding area is a national park, one of the most visited in the world. The craggy rock formations are fantastic in every sense, the entire area photogenic; indeed, the whole island is. A number of fantasy and science fiction movies have been filmed in the Teide crater.

            "Now Laura gasped as the peak of the mountain came into view on their left through the windscreen. She’d seen it from a distance as a snow-capped tip of a pyramid, but this was totally different. It literally took her breath away – the pockets of snow and sharp rock jutting into the sheer blue sky. They had entered the Las Cañadas National Park, with its flat white expanse of fine sands and gravel. Rocks shimmered in assorted colors.
The steep-walled caldera climbed up to El Teide, the peak of the remaining but dormant volcano. On either side of them stretched the extensive plain of Ucanca, its surface dotted with gullies and ravines, patches of scrub, cactus and broom." (p124).

There’s a cable car that runs (almost) to the top of Teide, though cross-winds can cancel its operation. On a clear day, the views from the top are breathtaking.

A short boat ride from Tenerife is the small island of Gomera. The boat trip and a coach journey round Gomera are worthwhile. It’s lush, with countless barrancos – steep sided verdant valleys. Because of the great inaccessible distances between farms and hillside fields, the locals developed silbo, a whistling language, and crossed ravines using tall poles. The book’s cliff-hanging denouement occurs on Gomera.

About 5 million tourists visit Tenerife each year; it would be wonderful to think that a fair portion of them could pick up Blood of the Dragon Trees while there, and visit the places mentioned!

***

Nik Morton served for over twenty years in the Royal Navy, appropriately as a Writer, then went into IT. He has sold many short stories and edited several books and magazines. In 2003 he and his wife Jennifer moved to Spain. In February 2011 he was hired as the editor-in-chief of the US publisher, Solstice Publishing until July 2013. 

Blood of the Dragon Trees is Nik’s 18th book to be published and it will appeal to anyone who is interested in Spain, crime thrillers, or romantic adventures.  

BLOOD OF THE DRAGON TREES
 Tigers slaughtered to cure pimples!

Laura Reid likes her new job on Tenerife, teaching the Spanish twins Maria and Ricardo Chávez. She certainly doesn’t want to get involved with Andrew Kirby and his pal, Jalbala Emcheta, who work for CITES, tracking down illegal traders in endangered species. Yet she’s undeniably drawn to Andrew, which is complicated, as she’s also attracted to Felipe, the brother of her widower host, Don Alonso.

Felipe’s girlfriend Lola is jealous and Laura is forced to take sides – risking her own life – as she and Andrew uncover the criminal network that not only deals in the products from endangered species, but also thrives on people trafficking. The pair are aided by two Spanish lawmen, Lieutenant Vargas of the Guardia Civil and Ruben Salazar, Inspector Jefe del Grupo de Homicidios de las Canarias.

Very soon betrayal and mortal danger lurk in the shadows, along with the dark deeds of kidnapping and clandestine scuba diving…

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Creating a Fantasy World - Ailsa Abraham's "Shaman's Drum"

More in our series of posts about the settings authors have chosen for their books.

I'm delighted to have Ailsa Abraham on my blog today, as she takes us through the ideas and places behind the world she has created for her Fantasy Romance, Shaman's Drum.

Over to you, Ailsa! 

Thanks for asking me along, Michela. So the question is “Why did I choose the location for my novel Shaman's Drum?”

Slight pause while I try to remember where it was. Ah yes! The capital. Why was I so very vague about not using the name when it clearly states in the blurb that the book is set in England in the very near future?
That's easy. Although my novel is futuristic, it is not set in a fantasy world.  The tale unfolds in a place very like this but the infrastructure and organised religions have changed. So there are still pizza places, public transport, computers, crystal shops etc. What I did not want to do is put readers in a setting they couldn't recognise. This could be your capital, wherever you live. The Underground railway could just as easily be the subway, the metro or the tube. I needed readers to identify with this place and know that it looked familiar even though some of the events were way beyond their experience.
 
Freemason's Hall, London




Specific locations in the story were made up from an amalgam of buildings I have visited and which made an impression on me. The Black Shaman's Guild is based on Freemason's Hall in London but the enclosed courtyard at the back may or may not exist, I have not yet gained entry there, being female.







The convent where we find Riga at the beginning was a mixture of a great many monastic institutions. Strangely enough I love visiting convents! The cloisters always struck me as very peaceful places, but what if a person were imprisoned within those cloisters and desperately wanted to escape? The contemplative silence would then not be tranquil, it would become oppressive.

The Convent

When it came to the Great Hall of the Council of the Wise I was spoilt for choice. The Palace of Westminster, Holyrood or any other banqueting hall I have the National Trust to thank for visiting. 
The only other place mentioned by name is Glastonbury because I don't think you can have a story about magic without somebody saying it and it must be, after Ayre's Rock in Australia, one of the best known ancient holy sites in the world.

The prequel to Shaman's Drum is my work in progress where we learn how the world came to have changed so much. This because readers told me I started in the wrong place and the reader is always right, so back to the very beginning we go. 

***

Ailsa Abraham was raised in a family of hereditary witches but undertook Wiccan training later in life, becoming a High Priestess. She left her coven to pursue a solo career as a shaman. She is now a healer in her village.

Having written all her life, she grabbed the opportunity when forced to stop work due to ill-health, to make it her full-time occupation.

Obviously with her background, paganism and shamanic practice were going to be to the fore in her novels.

She also loves adventure stories and romance. So her first published novel, Shaman's Drum binds all these passions together in one fast-paced, action-packed tale which has been likened to Indiana Jones but with magic.

She lives in France and when not doing anything else she likes crafting and runs and orphange for homeless teddybears. She is married and loves travelling around Europe with her husband and dogs in a very disreputable van.

Her novel "Shaman's Drum" has been nominated for the prestigious People's Choice Book Prize.
 SHAMAN'S DRUM

England in the near future.

Mainstream religions have been outlawed, and the old gods rule again.

Iamo has been a priest of the Great Mother and is sworn to celibacy, but his love for Riga, a Black Shaman, a magical assassin, caused him to break his vows. After being imprisoned apart from each other for three years, Iamo accepts an offer to earn them both a pardon and the possibility of marriage. If they survive.
Iamo and Riga must discover why demons are breaking through from the other side. Which of the cults are renegades who allow the demons through? Who can they trust?

Combining their powers, they face the ordeal with the help of a band of eclectic pagans, spirit creatures, Riga's Black Shaman brothers, an undercover Christian granny, and three unusually energetic Goths.

It's a tough assignment, but the hope of a life together keeps them fighting.


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Views of Summer



It seems that autumn has officially arrived on these shores and the weather has turned chilly and wet already. We can't really complain, as 2013 was the first decent summer we have had in a few years. Still, while days draw shorter and jumpers are coming out of the wardrobe, we can make the summer feeling last a bit longer with a good read. 

I have taken full advantage of the current Crooked Cat's End of Summer Sale to fill up my Kindle with a few books and help me bring a ray of sunshine into the grey days of late. With titles covering a wide range of genres, from thrillers to fantasy, chick-lit to paranormal, contemporary to historical fiction, horror to children and YA books, there is definitely something to suit every taste, and for the next few days all e-books are available at the bargain price of just 77p.

The sale of course includes my own novel, A Summer of Love,  a perfect read to lift the gloom of the changing season; a heartwarming story of  loss and forgiveness, family ties and love, that captures the colours, light and atmosphere of summers in Cornwall.

Here's an excerpt.


The beach in the summer was lively and colourful, filled with people in holiday mood, but Jonah much preferred it out of the tourist season, when it was deserted and melancholic. He lit a cigarette and looked over at the tangle of bodies, windshields, towels, surf boards, buckets and spades scattered on the sand. There was something more attractive about the sad, darker side of things, he considered. Happiness seemed to leave him cold. 

He leaned against the bonnet of his car, feeling agitated like a schoolboy on his first date. Sally was late.

He hadn’t been too sure how seriously she had taken his invitation, though they had quickly exchanged phone numbers just in case, and he’d been surprised when she had called him the following day to let him know that Ewan had left for Springfield Hospital with his sister.

“We could go for that lunch tomorrow, if you’re still up for it.”

And so here he was, waiting in the car park by the beach, feeling oddly nervous.

He had come to the conclusion that time had finally washed his feelings away, like the waves erased footprints and sandcastles from the beach, and Sally was no more than a memory.

Only she wasn’t.

If he had any sense, he would leave for London right now, go back to Sophie and his life, but the summer air and its perfume, and the Cornish light that he had so often tried to reproduce in his paintings, had messed with his senses and he just could not bring himself to go.

He always had that pull, he remembered, that desire to escape and that longing to stay. Deep down, he had carried a piece of that place with him. He could find it in almost each painting, in the twisted, visionary landscapes he created. They were surreal versions of familiar images; the beach, the cliffs, the meadows he had played in, the narrow lanes he had walked, the coastline, the tides and the waves. 

He threw his gaze far, to the horizon, like many times before when he was a boy dreaming of a future that had never materialised. So absorbed in his thoughts, he didn’t realise Sally had joined him until her voice made him jump.

“Sorry I’m late.”

He stared at her, soaking up her natural beauty, carelessly bundled in sailor jumper and jeans. “No worries.”

***

Successful artist Jonah Briggs is a man who has made mistakes. Aged just eighteen, he was sent to prison for two years, leaving his family shattered and his first love, Sally, to wait for his return.

 But at eighteen, two years seem like a lifetime, and some promises are hard to keep. 

When Jonah reappears in her life, Sally finds herself torn between him and Ewan, the young Cornish farmer she has married, divided between loyalty and passion, duty and love. 

Over the course of almost two decades, through meetings and partings, secrets and revelations, and two momentous summers, Jonah will have to confront his past and heal old wounds, while Sally will face the consequences of her choices – whether to follow her conscience or her heart.