Thursday, March 30, 2017

Two Wonderful Reads

Thanks to Soho Press and Skyhorse Publishing, I enjoyed two wonderful spring reads.

The first, WHAT MY BODY REMEMBERS (Soho Press), by Danish mystery author Agnete Friis, is a chilling and atmospheric suspense novel about a twenty-seven-year-old woman who is unmarried, unemployed, and suppressing a major trauma that is making it hard for her to function in her everyday life and putting her in grave danger of losing her son.

The main character, Ella, witnessed the murder of her mother when she was seven years old, but remembers nothing about the incident. Instead, her body does, and she suffers seizures whenever something reminds her of the night she lost everything--her mother to death, and her father to jail, for killing her mother.

Author Agnete Friis takes readers on a fairly predictable ride into Ella's past, but the book is compelling because of Friis' gift for description and characterization. Ella is prickly and vulnerable, and the ghosts of a twenty-year-old crime loom over her throughout the story, ready to emerge at any moment.

The book also raises some interesting questions about the nature of poverty, welfare, trauma, and essential humanity. Ella cannot hold a job, and she is judged harshly by a world that did little for her when she was broken by a terrible event.

While the novel holds few surprises in terms of the plot, it is stylish, compelling and hard to put down!
A totally different reading experience was Julian Lennon's beautiful TOUCH THE EARTH (Skyhorse Publishing). This book seeks an audience of very young readers who have the potential to save the earth by learning of our inextricable relationship to the environment.

I always loved BLUE'S CLUES because of the way it allowed young viewers to feel that they were taking an active role in the adventure. Lennon does the same here (along with his co-writer, Bart Davis) by letting young readers sit inside the White Feather Flier and take control of the instrument panel. He teaches them the four directions, and the way to use a compass. And then he lets them fly up and down, all over the earth, learning about the importance of water all over the earth--for people, animals, and the maintenance of all life on earth.

The book, in a simple and entertaining format, with beautiful illustrations by Smiljana Coh, includes young people in the important questions that face humanity. It encourages them to see that clean water is crucial to life, and that we can do things to help make the world a better and more ethical place.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Amateur Scientist Gordon Holmes on Scotland's Loch Ness, The Legendary Monster, and The Scientific Unknown

Back in 2007, I wrote this blog post about the Loch Ness Monster, in which I referenced Gordon Holmes, the man who took footage of a mysterious creature in the Loch. Recently I had the pleasure of chatting with Gordon, who provided many insights into the world's fascination with both the Loch and its reputed "monster."  Here's our interview--all photos supplied by Gordon Holmes.

 Are you a scientist by profession?

For twenty-two years I worked my way up from a Machine Tool Craftsman to a Design Engineer.

Then, when manufacturing went duff, I worked at Bradford University, Yorkshire, as an IT/Media Technician for another 22 years. Now I've retired early, so I have much more freedom.  

What got you interested in searching for Nessie?

Like most people, I have always been interested in the scientific unknown. So in 2003, I decided to finally  investigate the so-called Loch Ness Monster phenomena.  During the next four years, I visited the Loch on six occasions, armed with 7 X 50 Binoculars and Video Camera. However, there was no sign of Nessie.

Do you live near Loch Ness?

I live in a Yorkshire town called Shipley. Which is about 350 miles South of Loch Ness in England via roads and motorways. Journey time is about 10 hours, having several stops on route.

 You seem to have invented a great deal of sophisticated equipment. Do you have patents on your inventions? Do you work with a team, or alone?

No, I cannot patent anything on the equipment side since, I basically am utilising several units into a complete assembly. Anyone can do this, it just needs a bit of imagination and some technical know-how in mechanics, dynamics, electronics and, say, instrumentation. I have been fortunate to have experience in these topics during my career and hobbies. Most people could achieve all this; the main challenge is overcoming the fear to attempt it in the first place. Belief in the force, Luke or Lucy!

On the day that you got your famous footage, were you taken by surprise? Or were you expecting to find something?

On Saturday 26th May 2007 at about 9 PM (British Summer Time) I began to have doubts about my past 4 years and approx 160 hours attempting to observe the Loch Ness Monster, but with no luck. I had virtually decided not to investigate it in future. Although, one hour earlier I observed a good omen, a rainbow across the Loch. Then, whilst I was sat in the car, 70 foot above the loch (parked in a small parking area), around
 9: 30 PM, I noticed something moving tangentially across my line of sight about 150 yards away. I grabbed the camcorder and dashed next to the edge of the parking area. 

It took me about 20 seconds before I caught in through the camcorder viewfinder. For the next 2 minutes, I recorded, panned and zoomed in and out on the moving object. It seemed to be moving about 6mph. During this time, I also looked at it with just my eyesight. It was jet black but, appeared to be a couple of feet above the loch level with the water flowing over it. It was very aerodynamically shaped, like a Dolphin or a Big eel's head. Finally, it went out of visible range. When I stopped filming, I started shaking, for I knew this was going to be a massive sighting. A year later, Scottish TV told me their webpage showing my sighting, had about 1.8 million hits in the first 2 weeks!

DId you read about the Loch Ness Monster as a child?

 I was aware of the Loch Ness mystery from about the age of 10 years (1962) when my Mother bought me a small glass-like Nessie (actually, it was probably meant to be a stylish swan). My oldest Brother took me camping in Scotland during the early days of Skylab. For I remember seeing a large solar flare flowing off the low down, hazy sun. We had stopped near the shores of Loch Ness when it happened. (Note: Gordon warns that people should not look directly at the sun.  :) )

Why do you think the legend of the Loch Ness monster is so enduring?

When you observe tourists standing next to the Loch, they are praying to see Nessie. Whether they are from the US, Canada, Japan or Europe, they all are desperate for a Sighting. They want to believe, but should Nessie move quickly towards them, everyone would scream and quickly vanish, not surprisingly. 

Do we really want mysteries like this to be solved? Or is the joy in the quest?

As you say, it is the quest to solve the mystery that brings out our efforts. If we then solve it, the challenge has dissipated. I suppose if we knew all the Universe's biggest mysteries, then what would we search for? Fear not, though, is it likely we Humans will solve everything? Very unlikely, since we will probably be extinct long before then.

You've been to Loch Ness many times, but to most of us in America it's just the name of a famous body of water. What is the most striking thing about Loch Ness?

Since 2003, I believe I have had seventeen visits to investigate the Loch and Nessie. One year I visited four times. Usually, it is for a one week duration.

Loch Ness has many different aspects/treasures to it. One of the major influences is the weather. 

A foggy, murky loch has a mystical, frightening feel to it.

A bright, sunny loch would be wondrous and delightful.

Four days of continuous rain at Loch Ness would obviously be depressing.

Your 2007 webpage blog mentioned a romantic legend, which is something I never thought of, Julia. 

A child would be excited, but would also experience a scary-like sense.

To me it's a vast expanse I know well, a sort of friend, a second homecoming. The weather can change within minutes, so its never boring. However, the Real Monster of Loch Ness ia the Midge, a tiny biting fly thing. If the loch is calm and it is about to rain, beware of the Midge - aaarr!

Do you believe in the Loch Ness Monster?

Reports of Monster sightings at Loch Ness go back centuries, even to Saint Columba - 565 AD. For many years the locals would not discuss, if they had a sighting, since, they were very superstitious. However, based on hearsay, they describe a horrible looking Beastie. From the 1930s, there have been many hoaxes, and unfortunately it still happens up to the present day. The Experts agree that my footage was genuine, but they do not agree what it was. There is a TV Programme called, 'River Monster' and the Chap it is based around, catches very large and rare fish all over the world. He proves the local legends are indeed, true. 

Therefore I believe one or more large, scary looking Monsters could exist in Loch Ness over the centuries. Based on my footage, I would guess I filmed two large eels or dolphins (about 8 to 12 foot long), although, I don't believe anyone else has observed Dolphins in the loch before.

Thank you so much for chatting with me, Gordon!

Finally, here's an interview with Gordon on YouTube from the time of his sighting.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

English Thriller Writer Jane Corry Shares Her Thoughts About Serpentine Plots, Sea Views, and Second Marriages

Jane Corry is a writer and journalist and has spent time as the writer in residence of a high-security prison for men—an experience that helped inspire My Husband’s Wife, her debut thriller, published by Pamela Dorman Books. Corry runs regular writing workshops and speaks at literary festivals worldwide, including The Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera, Italy. Until recently, she was a tutor in creative writing at Oxford University.

Jane, thanks for chatting with me!!

Thank you.

      This is a complex story; it spans many years and alternates between two points of view. Every character has secrets.  What gave you the initial idea for the novel

      Three things! Working in a high-security male prison for three years.  Getting married again during that me. And my love of twists. I couldn’t help wondering about the relationship between first and second wives. Everyone assumes they shouldn’t get on. But what if a second wife had to ask the first wife a big favour? And suppose that involved a criminal who might actually be innocent. The book leaps forward fifteen years in the middle. So almost anything could happen….

You’re a journalist as well; what made you want to delve into fiction, specifically the thriller format? 

       I always wanted to be a novelist. I started writing little stories and poems from the age of three. I only became a journalist because I needed to earn my living and journalism seemed the best way because it involved writing. But then I had my own columns and was also bringing up three children – so had to put my original plan on the back burner until now. But it was worth it! 

The title is intriguing; we don’t really get to know its significance until later in the book. Did you go through several titles before you decided on this one, or was this always the one you had in mind? 

      It started out in my head as ‘My Husband’s New Wife’ but then evolved into ‘My Husband’s Wife’. I like contradictions! It makes people think twice….

Your characters are all flawed in one way or another.  Is it easy to guide your creation into making the wrong decision, or are you tempted, as the author, to let them have a different (and potentially more positive) outcome? 

I love flawed characters because it makes them more realistic. We all have flaws. I certainly do. As a reader, I don’t want a perfect character. I believe we are all here on earth to learn lessons and that means making mistakes along the way. Having said that, I do want them to have a positive outcome at the end!

 What sorts of books do you like to read? Which authors are your role models? 

At the moment I’m reading Christobel Kent’s The Loving Husband. I chose it because I met her when we were both speaking on a panel recently. I’m enjoying her style of writing and the riddles. Normally I don’t read psychological thrillers because I like to keep a distance from my own genre. I adore Anne Tyler and also Fay Weldon. I was lucky enough to meet Fay when I interviewed her as a young journalist and we’ve remained friends ever since. 

I’m also a huge fan of Alice Munro. I came across her when my now grown-up daughter was at school. I always used to read my children’s texts so I could test them – preferably in the car where they couldn’t run away!

Several scenes take place in prisons, and you were once the writer-in-residence of a men’s prison. How did this come about? How long did this experience last? What were your most prominent impressions of the experience? 

       I started working as writer in residence in a high-security male prison when my first marriage ended. The original contract was for two days a week for two years but they asked me to stay on for a third year. I was very struck by a number of factors. Although I was scared at first, I lost that fear when I was inside, working with the men and helping them to write life stories, poems, novels and short stories. Words are a great leveller. 

      I was also surprised by the fact that many criminals don’t look like they’ve done something awful. Some could have been a next door neighbor whom I might ask round for dinner. It wasn’t considered polite to ask what their crime was but sometimes they told me. Then I wished they hadn’t. It’s one thing to help a man write a story. But when they’ve confessed that they’ve killed or gang-raped, you can’t help but look at them in a different way. I was also struck by the amount of writing talent in prison. I entered some of my men’s work for competitions and many won prizes. 

      Writing can improve self-confidence and self-worth. It’s been proved that this can reduce the risk of re-offending. I am now a life story judge for the Koestler Awards which give prizes for writing and art to men and women in prison and mental institutions.

You are very good at withholding facts from your reader without them realizing, at the time, that the facts are missing. Is it difficult to plot this way? 

      Often the twists occur to me when I’m writing. Sometimes they come as I do the research (which I often do during the actual writing process). Then I go back and sow the seeds. So to answer your question, it’s complicated rather than difficult. But there’s nothing like that electric thrill when you suddenly think of another twist!

 In which environment can you write most productively?  Do you have any writing rituals?

I need complete peace. I’ve just about trained my new husband not to interrupt me! This is easier now the children are older although I also look after my granddaughter for two days a week.  I write at the top of the house, overlooking the sea. I live in the UK so it’s quite cold although I love to swim for most of the year (in a wet suit!). I also write in the morning after a dog jog along the beach and breakfast with my husband over the crossword. If it’s a grannie day, I’ll  catch up by writing in the evening instead.

That sounds wonderful! I am envious of your sea view. How long did it take you to write MY HUSBAND’S WIFE? 

Three and a half months of writing every day for the first draft. Then another four months for the whole editing process. I’m a journalist. I write fast. It’s what I was trained to do. But after so many years on the keyboard, my handwriting has suffered!

You do not live in the United States. Have you ever visited? 

Absolutely!  I have been to New York four times. Once with my first husband. Then on my own with my youngest son which was a real learning curve as it was my first time alone. We stayed with friends in Connecticut and then went to visit my older children who had summer jobs in upstate New York. 

Then I did a road trip with my second husband and visited Margaret Mitchell’s house in Atlanta – this was on my wishlist as I adore Gone With The Wind. The last trip was a transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2 which my second husband surprised me with! Amazing. I’d love to do it again one day….   

For those of us who might visit England, what is a sight that we absolutely must see before we leave? 

The sea. There’s nothing like it. I’d suggest going round the whole coastline! If you could only go to one place, I’d suggest the Isle of Skye. I went there three years ago with some cousins to visit the Macdonald ‘family castle’ which is now in ruins. I had an uncle who married several times so I have lots of wonderful cousins from a variety of nationalities ranging from Chinese to Canadian.  Most of us have parents who died young, but we are all very close and extremely proud of our heritage. Skye has some amazing scenery and people.

Thank you! I will remember that. How can readers find out more about you and your writing? 
      Through Twitter and my author page. Do check out @janecorryauthor on Twitter
and Jane Corry on Facebook.  Thank you for having me! Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy MY HUSBAND’S WIFE. No one is quite  who they seem!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Charles Salzberg and Swann Revisited

Back in 2012 I interviewed Charles Salzberg about his latest Swann novel. You can read that interview HERE.

Now I'm happy to report that Charles Salzberg has released a fourth novel in the Swann series called Swann's Way Out. This Shamus-nominated author has taken his protagonist through some difficult situations, and they continue in book four as Swann goes in search of a million missing dollars.

Back in 2012, Salzberg told me why he wrote a mystery:

"I had no intention of writing a mystery series.  When I was starting out I wrote very literary, very character-oriented novels, not strong on plot.  I wanted to see if I could write a plot-oriented book, and the best challenge I could find was to write a mystery or detective novel because those depend very heavily on plot.  I wrote Swann’s Last Song, which I thought of as an anti-detective novel, because in the original version Swann does not solve the case.  But publishers wouldn’t buy that, so I had to rewrite the ending (you can find both endings in the paperback version.) I was amazed when it was nominated for a Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel, and when I lost, I got pissed off and decided to write another.  It turns out, they’re fun to write and I have a lot of leeway now in what I can write about."

Find more at Salzberg's website:

Now, with the new title, Salzberg continues Swann's quest to right wrongs in a nostalgic, Chandler-esque style that incorporates action and humor.