The history in the mystery

the-kill-fee-blog-tour-poster

I am delighted to be a part of Fiona’s blog tour as The Kill Fee, her second book in the Poppy Denby Investigates series, is released. I am partway through the book currently – and am absolutely hooked (as I was with the previous title). Fiona is an incredible writer; she really sets the scene and historical background to her work and also paints her characters and storyline vividly and imaginatively. The pace is just right – as a reader you are swept along, immersed in the story, eager to find out how the mystery will be solved. Fiona explains below the way that she ensures the history of the period is as accurate as possible in her books during the writing process:

The Poppy Denby Investigates books are murder mysteries set in the early 1920s. The Jazz Files takes place in June 1920 and The Kill Fee, October of the same year. Each book has a particular historical backdrop and also a backstory, set a few years earlier. So I have to ensure I get two different sets of historical ‘facts’ correct in each book. How do I do it?

Firstly, it is impossible to ensure that every single thing is 100% right. That being said, I try my utmost to do so and would estimate that about 90% of it is as right as I can get it, 5% has been deliberately ‘tweaked’ to fit in with the story (I always point it out in the historical notes) and the final 5% will be mistakes I was not aware of – I apologise in advance for my inevitable fallibility. I try to deal in historical authenticity rather than complete accuracy – it’s a novel, not a history text book – and aim to create an authentic feel for the period rather than giving the reader a checklist of exactly what happened where and when.

As I also write for stage and screen, my writing is very visual. One reviewer said she could almost ‘see’ the story as if it were being acted out on stage. Just as I would create the mis en scene by selecting representative costumes, props, music and actions to evoke a sense of the period, I do the same in my novels. Before I even start writing – and certainly during the process– I absorb myself in the music, fashion, art, architecture, cuisine, cinema and theatre of the period. There are lots of collections online, plus books to read and museum exhibits to visit. I even made an outfit from an original 1920s pattern for my first Poppy Denby photo shoot!

1920s-pattern

The 1920s pattern Fiona used as inspiration for her own outfit.

In terms of the historical backdrop of the suffragettes (book 1) and the Russian Revolution (book 2) I took a more ‘academic’ approach. I have a degree in history (simply a BA, but it is enough to ground me in the techniques of historical research). Before I start writing the story I spend around four months reading the key texts of the period. I prepare for writing in the same way I used to prepare for my university exams – sketching timelines and flow charts and trying to reach an understanding of the broad historical, political, social and economic backdrop, rather than memorising ‘details’. The details can, and are, easily added later. But I do not start writing until I have a feel of what it might have been like to live in that period – I try to read diaries, biographies and novels written at the time – as well as how the period ‘fits’ into history.

But then I stop, switch brains, and start to focus on the story, the characters and the mystery. That for me is the most important part. The history is certainly the skeleton of my books, but the muscles, the flesh and the beating heart are Poppy, her friends and their adventures. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have writing – and researching – them.

For more on the social, historical and cultural background of the books – as well as flapulous fashion and music – visit www.poppydenby.com

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Fiona in her own ‘flapulous’ creation!

 

 

Why I’m glad my friends aren’t nice…

beth-new-cropped-w179I’m so pleased Beth Moran agreed to write a guest blog for my site. She is a brilliant writer, drawing the reader in right from the word go in the way she constructs her storylines. Her characters are totally believable and we get to share the best and worst moments of their lives. In honour of Women’s Friendship Month, on this last day of September, I asked Beth to write about the importance of friendship in women’s lives. This is one of the themes that weaves throughout her latest novel, I Hope You Dance, which centres around Ruth, a woman in her thirties who has just lost her husband. She discovers he has left her with a mountain of secret debts so she and her teenage daughter have to move back into her parents’ home. Ruth has to learn to face her past, present and future head on…

I’m going to come right out with it: for a long time, I had big issues with Christian women. Well, not all of them. It was the nice ones I had a problem with. The ones that always smiled, and said encouraging things, who made little jokes about their own deficiencies while their faces glowed and shiny hair sat perfectly in place. Those women who never complained, or gossiped, or growled at anyone. Who tirelessly served others, forsaking the last piece of cake so someone else could have two. Not once kicking up a fuss or making a mess or forgetting a birthday.

Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely liked these women. My issue was, I didn’t trust them.

Oh, I trusted them to do what they promised, to keep a secret, to be kind.

I didn’t trust them to be my friend.

I didn’t trust them when they said, “Well done, you were fantastic!” or “It was so wonderful to see you!” or told me how gorgeous I looked, or what a mess their car was or how they totally understood why I just kicked a chair across the kitchen.

I was dubious about the fact they were doing “really well!”, had an amazing time – every time, no matter what or where or how long the time. I didn’t quite believe they always loved being a mum, or a wife, or a Christian, or none of those things, as much as it appeared. And I couldn’t accept they liked me.

Instead, I felt comfortable with those who were blunt, who sometimes shouted at their kids in public, who made loud, large mistakes. I found myself spending time with women whose houses were a tip, honoured they invited me into the chaos. Grateful they were honest enough to tell me when they’d had a flaming row with their husband, or felt useless and weak, or were too tired to pray anymore. Or that I’d hurt them.

I loved these women, who welcomed me with open arms into their imperfections. I felt safe to be imperfect, too. These were the women I could turn to when I couldn’t forgive, or struggled to do the right thing, or I wanted a genuine answer to “Does my bum look big in this?”

But a weird thing happened. Me and these non-nice women, over time we learnt to have our rants in private, to share our fears, our troubles, our sins, with coffee in our messy living rooms not after Sunday services.

Together we learnt to lean on each other before things reached snapping point. To share advice and faith and lessons we’ve learnt about living well.

And then I realised this: nice women let off steam from time to time. They can feel angry and worried and overwhelmed, just like the rest of us.

The women who appear strong and assured in public, who are pretty darn fantastic at what they do; the women who can laugh at the days to come, despite current trials, or past pain – those women have learnt the value of true friendship in private. To cherish a small number of absolute, 24/7, warts and all people in their life. Those who cheer us on, who pray with us, who help us to be the women we were created to be. Those friends who tell us when we need to find a better balance, or stop whining and get moving, or where to go and have a decent bra fitted.

When we have a few, well-chosen people we can be our worst selves with, we are able to face the rest of the world as our best selves.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be thought of as one of those nice women. I’m embarrassingly honest, prone to getting feisty and I have a sense of humour that hovers on the boundaries of taste. But I’m okay with that. And I’m so grateful that some women love and trust me enough not to be nice to me all the time. It’s how I know they count me as their friends.

9781782641704Beth’s latest book, I Hope You Dance, is available now, and is published by Lion Fiction.

Women’s Friendship Month

I know that we are on the last stretch of September, but, as I only recently discovered this, I didn’t want to let International Women’s Friendship Month pass by without mentioning it. Started by a national women’s sorority in the United States, originally as a national day, it was expanded to a month and is now recognised internationally.

9781782641704One of the books I read this month was I Hope You Dance, by Beth Moran. It is a beautiful story about love, loss and new beginnings but what struck me most was the portrayal of deep friendships amongst the group of women that her central character, Ruth, finds herself becoming a part of. Wary, cynical and untrusting to begin with, Ruth is taken aback by the level of openness that is shared amongst these somewhat unlikely friends and is slowly drawn into the centre of their friendship circle. I love the fact that they are a real mix of characters, who would probably never have got to know each other if it wasn’t for their attendance at the local church. Unlikely friendships are so wonderful at revealing some of the creativity of our Maker don’t you think?

There is something about friendship amongst women that is so vital, so life-giving. To be affirmed, encouraged and spurred on is so necessary. But it’s also those friends that are willing to give us a kick up the backside when we need it, or know us well enough to be able to tell us when we look worn out (because we know they will do all they can to help us rest), that we desperately need. Life is enriched when we open ourselves up to the possibility of such deep relationships. I know it is scary, as it also opens up the possibility of being hurt. But there is always risk in relationship isn’t there? Being loved and accepted by other women, and loving and accepting them in return is a wonderful gift. Yes there are those sticky moments at times when we might ruffle each other’s feathers – but that’s an important part of friendship too. We learn to be more gracious – and can also learn a lot about ourselves, if we allow ourselves to. I just wanted to pause today and thank God for my friends – why don’t you too?

Author interview with Fiona Veitch Smith: part 2

In the second instalment of my interview with Fiona Veitch Smith, she provides more detail about what a writer’s life is like for her…

Fiona in her 1920s guise :)

Fiona in her 1920s guise 🙂

You write in various genres, including children’s books, stage plays and screenplays. Where do you get your inspiration for each genre, and do you find writing for one of them easier than the others?

I didn’t set out to write for all genre and media. I set out to be a full-time writer and simply pursued whatever opportunities came my way. I would push at a door to see how far it would open and if it stopped, try another. The net result is that I am published and produced across the media but with varying success in each. I am first and foremost a storyteller. I come up with story ideas and then see which media would be the best vehicle to tell that story. So I rarely look at a genre then come up with an idea; it works the other way. Occasionally though I will be commissioned to write something for a specific medium and then I delve into my ideas bank and see which story would best suit the technicalities of the medium. Some stories are more visual (film) others require immediacy and audience interaction (stage) still others are simple stories with deeper truths (children) then others more epic with extensive back story (novel). Short stories and poems are better suited to a single image or concept. I wrote a poem this morning about an ageing apple tree. The concept would have been overstretched if I’d tried to write it into a film or novel. It could have been a children’s story, however, but I wanted to get across a deep spiritual truth which required the reader to have a bit of life experience to relate to – so a poem for adults it became. Each medium has its strengths and weakness. It’s like trying to choose your favourite child. At the moment though I am focusing on writing picture books for children with SPCK and novels with Lion Fiction.

For all those aspiring writers out there: how do you manage your time between being a lecturer in writing and writing itself? Are you working towards writing full-time or do you feel you have the balance as you want it?

I started lecturing by accident. A friend’s husband died suddenly and she asked me to take over her adult ed writing class. I’d never taught before, but I felt unable to say no. It turned out to be a very fulfilling experience. It also provided income to buy me time to write. Since then, now 11 years ago, I have continued to teach and lecture part time. I now lecture at two universities but I wouldn’t say it’s my day job – I only lecture a day or two a week between September and April. My day job is still writing. I think I’m beginning to find the balance. A couple of years ago I said yes to taking on more lecturing work because I needed the money but then my writing suffered. In the last two years I have tried to keep April to August completely free to write. It’s tough, because I only get paid for what’s called ‘contact time’ and I end up living off my credit card for a couple of months every year. Should other writers do it? That’s up to you. I gave up a full-time, well-paid job as a journalist to pursue creative writing, but my family’s income took a massive hit as a result. It’s not for everyone. I make sure I take on enough paid work to keep the wolf from the door. And that’s the reality for most writers. Very few people manage to do it full time without an additional income stream.

You also speak at conferences and offer creative writing workshops for both children and adults alike. Would you say that writers need to learn to diversify, or have those other avenues simply developed naturally for you?

I do that because a) I enjoy it; b) I have a natural gift for public speaking and teaching; and c) it helps to pay the bills (although some of the appearances barely pay enough to cover expenses – if anything at all!). This is something that suits me and my skill-set, but will not necessarily suit everyone. Yes it has increased my profile and hence gives me and my books a bit of a ‘platform’ but that’s not the primary reason I do it. I would advise writers to connect with their audiences in whatever way suits their personality and skill-set. But readers do like to meet authors ‘in the flesh’.

In 2011 you started your own ‘indie’ publishing company. How did that come about, and what was behind the decision to fold it in 2015?

Crafty Publishing was started when my husband was made redundant (and then got a bit of spare cash when he got a new job fairly quickly). I had written a series of children’s books called the Young David Books, which I had unsuccessfully tried to get published. After they went down so well at my church my husband and I decided to use some of his redundancy money to self-publish. It was hard work but ultimately a successful little enterprise. Within four years of self-publishing we were approached by three different publishers to buy us out – two in the UK and one in America. By this time we felt we had plateaued with the books and couldn’t take them to the next level. We decided to sell the books to SPCK who are doing a brilliant job with them now and are getting them the international distribution that we were unable to do.

As things were going so well with my own books I thought I would try to give some other writers a chance – as I know how hard it is to get published – and also to try a different genre. I brought out my own adult novel and then signed another writer. We had four other writers in the pipeline (one children and three adult) when we decided to stop publishing earlier this year. The reasons were financial. My children’s books were the only things that made any money (not much, but we were approaching break-even point) yet we struggled to find sufficient distribution for the adult books to make it a viable commercial concern. We were at the point where we would have to have started siphoning off our family’s savings to fund it and we weren’t prepared to do that. So sadly, particularly for the authors involved, we had to call it a day.

You have quite a presence online: an old website, your new author website, a Poppy Denby website plus your Crafty Writers website. How do you have time to keep all the content refreshed? What advice would you give to writers wanting to make more of a presence online?

The truth is I don’t. My many websites reflect different aspects of my career over a 12-year period. One of the sites was more active when I was making my living primarily as a freelance feature writer, journalist and blogger. Another when I was earning more from giving writing advice and freelance editing and copywriting. As my career has developed so my web presence has changed. The problem is the sites are linked in to other sites and it is not that easy to take them down. As my writing career is becoming more streamlined into me being a novelist with Lion Fiction and a children’s writer with SPCK I am trying to streamline my online presence – but this takes time. So my advice: don’t take on more than you can chew!

It’s the same with social media: I am on Linked In, Goodreads, Twitter and FB but really only focus on Twitter and FB. They suit me and my relational personality more. I might give Goodreads another go but there are only a few hours in the day that I can (or should!) devote to social media. I would advise writers trying to build their online presence to choose one or two outlets and do them well. That being said, these days, having an online presence and being active in social media is one of the things publishers take into consideration when deciding whether or not to take your book. So do it, but do it wisely (ain’t hindsight a wonderful thing?).

What now for Poppy Denby and future writing projects?

I’m very excited that Poppy 2 has now been sent off to my publisher. I will be focusing mainly on lecturing over the Autumn plus promoting The Jazz Files. In between I will start research for Poppy 3. In the New Year I am looking forward to working on a new children’s series with SPCK. Beyond that, I’m very tempted to start pitching Poppy Denby Investigates as a television series. I would like to do the adaptation myself. A girl can dream, can’t she? And sometimes, just sometimes, those dreams come true.

To purchase The Jazz Files, please click here.

Author interview with Fiona Veitch Smith: part 1

Having been captivated by Fiona’s latest novel, The Jazz Files, I was delighted when she agreed to an interview. I’ll warn you up front that it is long, but so fascinating and full of honesty and advice for writers and aspiring writers alike that I simply couldn’t cut it. So please do read this and tomorrow’s instalment for a behind-the-scenes look at how Fiona’s new crime series has been birthed and crafted – and what life as a writer is like for her.

COV_Front_JazzFiles

Congratulations on an intriguing, fast-moving novel. This is the first book in a series – could you explain how your publishing deal came about?

I hope you’ve got a cup of tea in hand, this is a bit of a long story … I was hired by Monarch (Lion Hudson) around four years ago to ghostwrite a biography. They took me on because a few years before that I submitted a non-fiction idea to them which they turned down. Although they didn’t want the book, they liked my writing style and kept me in mind for the ghostwriting project. However, after nine months working on it I came to the conclusion that the man who the book was about had made up much of his story. I told Monarch and they cancelled the contract.

Lion Hudson – and, in particular, Tony Collins, one of the commissioning editors there – felt awful that the contract was cancelled and asked if I had anything else they could look at because they really wanted to work with me. The only other thing I had in the pipeline at the time was a historical novel set in the 1st century against the background of the early church. At the time the Lion Fiction imprint was being launched and they asked to look at it.

It took them eighteen months – and two rewrites from me – to decide that although they liked the book, they felt it was too ‘Christian’ for their market. Again they asked me if I had anything else. Well I didn’t; nothing written anyway. But I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth so I started mulling over some new ideas.

My research of what Lion Fiction was already publishing told me that crime mystery series were something they were interested in. So I came up with the idea of a reporter sleuth set in the 1920s and submitted the idea to them. They liked the idea and the outline but weren’t prepared to go to contract without seeing the whole book.

So I had to write it. It took me six months. I submitted it – plus some ideas for the rest of the series – and they finally offered me a contract. Phew! So the moral of the story is … don’t give up. These things can take a looooooong time to come to fruition. I’m so grateful they stuck with me and I thank Tony Collins for believing in me as a writer for so many years.

Do you have all the ideas for the whole series already set out, or is it an evolving process?

It’s an evolving process. I deliberately started the series in 1920 so I had ten years for my heroine to have adventures before it became a series set in the 1930s – whether she, the publisher or I are game for another decade, is a decision for the future. However, I had it in mind from the beginning to set the book against real historical events as they unfold through the decade. Which events still have to be decided, but I do have a basic structure in mind.

About halfway through writing the first book I knew that I wanted to set the next one – which has now been written – against the diaspora of White Russian refugees in the wake of the Russian Revolution. I know too where the third book will be set and am starting my background reading on that now. I have an inkling of Book 4, but have not made any firm decisions yet. The story and background of Book 2 were decided because one of the characters of Book 1 was a Russian and it gave me scope to delve a bit more into his back story. Also, I found a faux Fabergé Egg in a charity shop, which gave me the idea for the main plotline.

The same with Book 3 – it’s linked to the back story of another character. So a tip for writers considering writing series: have a broad dramatis personae of colourful characters. They may only play a bit part in the first book but could be developed down the line.

The Suffragette movement is still at the forefront of your characters’ minds. Your main character, Poppy, is one of the young women who were forging their own careers in traditionally male-dominated worlds. Why did you choose to set the series in that era?

After my first self-published novel, The Peace Garden, I discovered I was attracted to the mystery genre. The book started as a literary novel but soon drifted towards mystery. And as I have a degree in history and I love reading historical mysteries, it seemed to be a natural fit. But why the 1920s? Well I originally conceived of it set in 1912. The day before I received the rejection for my 1st century historical and the request for another proposal, I had been to visit the grave of the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison in Morpeth. It was the centenary of her death and I had just used her as an example of women acting out their faith (she was a Christian) in a talk I gave to my church’s women’s ministry. The pastor’s wife suggested we visit Emily’s grave and lay flowers. There is a picture of me at her grave on www.poppydenby.com under the ‘Suffragette’ link.

The next day I received news that Lion had rejected my 1st century novel. I was naturally very upset after all the work I’d put into it, but heartened that they wanted more. As I was praying and asking God to guide me as to what to write next, my eye was drawn to a book on my bookshelf called Unshackled by Christabel Pankhurst. It’s a first-hand account of the women’s suffrage movement.

It suddenly dawned on me that I should write about a suffragette reporter sleuth. (Why a reporter? Well I was formerly a journalist … but that’s another story). So I started planning the novel. However, the period just didn’t seem to fit. The clothes were boring, the music was boring and frankly, my character might have been feisty but she was downright dowdy. I felt the same writing her as I did playing Sheila Birling in an am-dram production of An Inspector Calls. But what I wanted to feel was like I felt when I played the delightful Maisie in Ken Russell’s The Boyfriend (a high school production – pic again on www.poppydenby.com). I had also just started learning to play jazz clarinet and was listening to music from the 1920s. I began to conceive of shifting my story to the 1920s and having my main character an inheritor of the legacy of the Suffragettes.

Just like Poppy I worked as a journalist in the 1990s and inherited the freedoms won by the brave women of the 1960s and 70s. Once I made this shift I immediately felt an emotional connection with the character and the period. And the rest, as they say, is history.

How did you research the historical content of your novel? 

I read a number of non-fiction books about the period, which are listed at the back of The Jazz Files and also on the www.poppydenby.com website. In addition to this I went down to London for a few days and walked up and down Fleet Street and King’s Road – key locations in the novel – to get a feel for the place and travelled the same routes that Poppy would travel on bus and train. I spent two days in the British Library reading newspapers from 1920 – particularly the Daily Mail and The Times. Some of the news stories that appear in the book were genuine articles from the time. I also went to the Suffragette exhibition and fashion exhibition at the London Museum. Some of the outfits that Poppy and Delilah wear in The Jazz Files were exact replicas of outfits I saw there. In addition I researched what was playing on the theatre scene in 1920 as well as cinema and music. The songs played in chapter 3 of the book were all actually played in 1920. These are small details that most people won’t notice but it gives me great pleasure to get these things right. I also like to think it adds a touch of authenticity that readers will feel if not know.

To purchase The Jazz Files, please click here.

A day in the life of a jobbing writer

Today I am welcoming Edoardo Albert on my blog. He is a copywriter, editor and writer and his latest books, the series known as The Northumbrian Thrones, are published by Lion Fiction. The second book in the series, Oswald, has recently been published and, to celebrate, I invited Edoardo to give us some insights into his life as a writer.

Picture 037

‘Alarm: 5am. But this morning, I didn’t need it. Son number three, two-year-old Isaac, had arrived in our bedroom at 1.30am, had settled in until 4.30am and then, with the hyperactive midsummer sun blasting through the curtains, woken up, thirsty, hungry and disinclined to go back to sleep. We got up. I fed and watered Isaac, and attempted to persuade him of the benefits of sleep. By 6am, he had agreed.

‘Luckily, I had switched off the alarm before heading downstairs, so wife number one and only was not disturbed. Sons numbers one and two had not stirred. The house was quiet, the street was quiet, I had an hour of calm to get some work done. The cat then came in, requiring breakfast.

‘This pretty well sums up the life of a modern-day writer: struggling desperately to fit some writing time in between the demands of family and making some actual, putting-food-on-the-kids’-plates money. Add to that long hours and every third person you meet telling you, ‘Oh, I’ve been meaning to write a book,’ and I sometimes wonder why I do it. But then there are times, as happened in the writing of Oswald: Return of the King, that you fall through the page into the story – it is as if a secret fire has lit inside the characters and, for want of any better way to describe it, they come alive.

‘Now, this is particularly precious but, also, particularly perilous for me, since what I am doing with Oswald and the first volume in the trilogy, Edwin: High King of Britain, is writing imaginative history. In most historical fiction, the history is the backdrop in front of which invented characters play out an invented story – sort of science fiction of the past. That’s all well and good, and at its best makes for wonderfully entertaining reading, but too often it slides into wish fulfilment. What I am trying to do with The Northumbrian Thrones trilogy is to take real people and actual events and show why they happened in a manner that is artistically satisfying and historically plausible. So it is a great privilege when these characters, most of whom were once real, living people, come to life in my mind, but a temptation too, for they are imaginings. Yet, at one level, I suppose if asked I would say that yes, I really do think Oswald was as I portray him: Tolkien, as he wrote the stories of Middle-earth, began more and more to believe that he was discovering rather than inventing. I am no Tolkien, but on the other hand seventh-century Northumbria lies on a somewhat firmer foundation of fact than Middle-earth.

‘As far as bringing this world to life, a great advantage is the fact that I have already written a book about the history and archaeology of the time – Northumbria: the Lost Kingdom, with archaeologist Paul Gething. Paul is director of the Bamburgh Research Project, which has been excavating in Bamburgh for over a decade now, and through writing and talking with him I gained the sort of insight that is simply impossible to find in books alone. For if I am trying to write imaginative history, Paul is doing imaginative and experimental archaeology, down to gathering bog ore from sites around Bamburgh, smelting and smithing it, to see if he can recreate the extraordinary weapon, the Bamburgh sword, that they rediscovered at the castle.

‘All this has gone into writing Oswald: Return of the King. I hope it doesn’t show (at least, not in a flashy, look-at-me sense, although I hope it appears in a sensed authenticity of detail).

‘As for my writing day, I squeezed in 45 minutes before catching the tube in to work. You think writing pays the bills? Think again.

‘There are some days I can devote entirely to writing, but these mainly result from not being able to find any better paying work for the day. Most often, I catch an early tube train in to work at Time Out or one of the other magazines where I play catch with my cash flow, settling in there for a day spent staring at a screen. This is good work for a writer: editing other people’s work, from the excellent to the barely competent, and marvelling how some writers, hardly able to craft a sentence, have managed to pursue careers in publishing.

‘The great joy of working in central London is the tube journey, for it offers uninterrupted reading time. As with all professions, increasing proficiency often entails doing less of what drew you to the subject in the first place. I became a writer, first and foremost, because I loved stories but, being a writer, I have less and less time to actually read any stories. Hence, all glory, laud and honour to TFL, and may their trains continue to take half an hour to get me in to central London: an hour’s reading a day is the vital word infusion that keeps the words fresh and renews the love of story.

‘So, there you have it, a writer’s day: words and screens, family and work, all in all not so different from other people. But I’ve done other jobs – deliveries, TV repairs, office work – and believe me, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about with words.’

Oswald cover

Edoardo’s first book in the series, Edwin: High King of Britain, is currently on sale in ebook form at a reduced price. It is also available in paperback.

To buy Edoardo’s new book, Oswald, please click here.

There’s a crack in my fishbowl

9781782641292I am delighted to welcome Gerard Kelly to my website as a guest blogger. A prolific poet/writer, he has just released his first novel, The Boy Who Loved Rain, a beautifully emotive book tackling huge issues: toxic family secrets, suicide, self-harming… As a pastor’s wife, I was intrigued to see how the central family would deal with the enormous crisis brewing in their lives – particularly as the father, a pastor, will not acknowledge their problems or seek help from outside the church. I was totally drawn into the novel, especially through the way Gerard portrayed the troubled teenager, Colom.

Politicians, entertainers, sports stars and other celebrities often talk of the pressures of living in the limelight. Work / life balance is hard to maintain and where they have families it is hard to establish any kind of normal rhythm for their children. They live in a fishbowl, visible to all. They are subject to constant judgements from those who look on – always ready to offer an opinion and all too often happy to see their idols fall.

My novel The Boy Who Loved Rain explores this fishbowl lifestyle through a different and very specific group of of people: the leaders of churches. Theirs is not a life of celebrity – it would be difficult to describe weekly sessions in the pulpit as ‘the limelight’ – but the pressures on their families are nonetheless real.

David and Fiona Dryden, church leaders and parents to the adolescent Colom, feel this pressure acutely, not least because the growth of their church has come from their acknowledged expertise in parenting. David in particular hands out advice quite publicly – saving marriages and keeping families together. All is not well, though, in the Dryden household. There are dark secrets not far below the surface, and the decision to keep them from the light only means the impending crisis will be deeper.

Renowned psychologist Paul Tournier in his book Secrets suggests that keeping a secret is the first step to becoming an individual. The second step, he says, is telling it. Colom, at fourteen, is on the cusp between the two, and the comfort that secrecy has brought him in childhood will not sustain him in his adult years. The question is whether his parents will have the courage, for the love of their son, to let light shine.

I’m intrigued by the dilemma faced by David and Fiona Dryden because this is my world. I’ve pastored churches and I’ve worked with others doing the same, and too often I’ve seen uncomfortable truths swept under the carpet. It doesn’t matter how successful your ministry is, or how well known you are for helping others: your children are your children and their needs will neither be defined nor be met by the success of your ministry. They need parents, not professionals, and if any role is a crash course in the power of truth-telling, it is parenting. I’ve made huge changes in my own life, including career decisions that on the surface seem foolish, when I’ve seen that the needs of my family are clashing with the demands of my role. My children, as they’ve grown, have become my teachers, and listening to them has been a hard-won but hugely rewarding discipline.

The Boy Who Loved Rain is about the battle to take adolescents seriously; to allow them to be the central actors in their own drama; to recognise that their journey and my journey are not one and the same. Adolescence is the period in which a child moves from being a passenger in someone else’s vehicle to learning to drive their own. Controlling parents, who love nothing more than having their hand on the wheel and assume that they will be making all the route decisions, don’t always take well to this transition. We have plans; goals; desires for our children’s lives: but it is not our job to deliver them. Only they can fight their battles; only they can live their life. Our job is to equip them; to set them on their way, but ultimately to free them to be the warriors their nature and their maker have designed them to be.

For families in the fishbowl, this process of freeing our children might mean a choice – of relationship over reputation; of family over fortune; of those we love over those we serve. In my experience, it is a choice worth making. Sometimes it is the only choice that will save our children’s lives – and our own.

The Boy Who Loved Rain is published by Lion Fiction. Thanks to them for the review copy and for inviting me to be part of the blog tour.